Kenny Vaccaro summoned the name of Delvin Breaux.
It’s an easy comparison. Last year, Breaux came to the New Orleans Saints from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League and immediately made an impact. Now, his former CFL teammate, Erik Harris, is trying to do the same thing.
But, after letting the words hang in the air for less than a second, Vaccaro thought better of it. Make no mistake, Harris has looked good, but the comparison is at least premature and maybe even unfair.
Breaux played at such a high level last season that it’s now expected he’ll become one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL this year. Harris, on the other hand, only has a couple of weeks of offseason practices under his belt and needs to make the team before he can worry about anything else, but those few weeks have impressed his teammates.
“(Harris is a) stud. He’s been playing good every practice,” Vaccaro said. “He’s competing. He’s making plays. He has a lot of range. He’s smart. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Harris’ quick rise has been a bit of a surprise.
After he signed with the Saints this offseason, a CFL talent evaluator told The Advocate that he expected him to make his mark on special teams and maybe steal some snaps at weakside linebacker.
Instead, Harris has been running with the first-team defense as both a strong and free safety during organized team activities and minicamp. His opportunity to play with the first team has come in part by an injury to Jairus Byrd, who has been unavailable during team drills, but it says something about where Harris stands with the team.
It isn’t, however, a surprise to Breaux. The cornerback expected this, and that expectation is one of the reasons Harris is here. He vouched for his former teammate to the Saints’ coaching staff. Breaux knew all Harris needed was a shot to prove himself.
“The guy has been playing well,” Breaux said. “He’s been balling, something that I knew already. I know he can do this. I know he’s a great athlete. He’s showing and proving to the coaches and proving it to the coaches as well. It’s big.”
The comparisons between Breaux and Harris are going to be made — especially if Harris finds a way to make the team. The two players traveled paths that are too similar.
So, does Breaux think Harris is catching on as quickly as he did last season?
“I think he’s actually doing a little bit better than me because safety is easy,” Breaux joked, forcing the words over a muffled laugh. “He can just sit back there and read the play. It was tough for me last year a little bit because I had to adjust. Safety, you’re back in the post, and you’re chilling. But no, he’s doing a great job. He’s catching on quick.”
Either way, Harris knows that he owes this shot, at least to some degree, to Breaux putting in a word for him.
“He definitely put his reputation behind what I did with him up there,” Harris said. “I can’t say enough. I called him probably about 10 times after I signed to thank him. For somebody to go out of their way at this level and just say, ‘Hey, trust this guy, pick this guy up.’ ”
Harris credits the CFL for the position he’s in, and not just because that’s where he met Breaux. It’s where he polished his game.
Harris didn’t have any offers to play in the NFL when he was coming out of California University of Pennsylvania. NFL scouts watched him play and expressed interest, but a call never came.
He went back to school, finished his degree, and then headed to Buffalo to tryout for Hamilton.
It was there that he dropped 20 pounds and got down to his current weight of 215. And it was there he acquired some new tricks and learned how to be the kind of player who might have the skills to crack a 53-man roster.
It helped a lot that the game is different in Canada.
Harris was listed as a strongside linebacker, but with the way the CFL game is played, where there are receivers all over the field, and the key to success on defense is being able to play in space, he played a position more resembling safety.
“Everyone gets confused when I say the Sam linebacker up there. It’s really a hybrid safety,” Harris said. “You’re covering a receiver, and then you’re playing in the box when they substitute a receiver for a fullback. You do a little bit of everything.”
There’s still a long way to go for Harris to make the team.
It will be shocking if Byrd, Vonn Bell and Vaccaro do not make the team. It also sounds like Roman Harper, who signed last week, was guaranteed a spot on the roster. So, that leaves Harris fighting with the likes of Jamarca Sanford and Alden Darby for a roster spot.
But he’s here, and he’s doing well right now. Harris might seem like a long shot, and the comparisons to Breaux are certainly unfair, but seeing the transition Breaux made from the CFL to the NFL makes anything seem possible.