Denver Broncos unsung heroes: OL Ryan Harris

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This week’s unsung hero is eighth year offensive tackle, Ryan Harris.  Currently in his 3rd stint with the Broncos, Harris’ role with the team may not be important as it is right now as the team’s starting left tackle.  Let’s take a look at the stats for this eighth  year Bronco.

Name: Ryan Harris

Size: 6’5, 302 lbs

Age: 30

College: Notre Dame

Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Broncos

2015 Stats: 12/12 games started

Career Stats: 66/106 games started

The Story: Harris’ story is unique compared to his fellow “unsung heroes”. He was an early draft pick, he’s started

Oct 4, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos tackle Ryan Harris (68) before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

dozens of games, he was once thought of as a player on the rise.  So how has story become “unsung”?  For Ryan Harris, it’s been a series of peaks and valleys.

As a 3rd round pick by the Broncos, it was immediately assumed that Harris would eventually become one of their starting offensive tackles.  Although he spent most of his rookie season in 2007 on the bench, it was his sophomore season in the league that he made his biggest impact.  As a starter for the entire 2008 season, he and rookie Ryan Clady teamed up to create one of the best offensive tackle tandems in the NFL and solidified a rock solid offensive line that only allowed 12 sacks for the entire season.

It would have seemed the Harris’ professional trajectory was only going up and he would soon be able to add pro bowl invitations to his resume, but like many things in the NFL, change happened in a sudden and swift motion.  After the 2008 season concluded, longtime coach Mike Shanahan was fired and replaced by the bib-wearing, baby faced Offensive Coordinator of the Patriots, Josh McDaniels.  In what had become a situation that Harris thrived in suddenly turned into a place that would only harbor inconsistent play and nagging injuries.

Harris went on to start 18 games over the next two seasons under Coach McDaniels, with both seasons being cut short by injuries.  In what only could be described as frustrating, Harris served as the best microcosm of what happened to the Broncos.  Like Harris, the team was filled with plenty of young talent, but it was wasted by bad coaching, poor decision making and consistent injuries a key moments.

Despite the slide in production, Harris was a well sought after as a free agent in 2011, signing a one year deal with the Eagles. He had hoped that a new team could breathe life back into his career, but unfortunately, injuries will deal him a nearly lethal professional blow in training camp.  After requiring back surgery for an injury sustained during camp, Harris was released by the Eagles shortly before the 2011 season began.  Without a team to call home, Harris found himself as a street free agent for the entire 2011 regular season.  Even though it gave him the time to recover from his surgery, the fact that he was recovering without employment from an NFL team had to be crushing for him.

It was only two years prior when he was regarded as one of the best right tackles in the NFL. Everything seemed to be going well for him. In a league that is ruthless when it discards players, it’s hard to imagine how a player feels when their career is suddenly on hold. In an odd twist of fate, it was an injury to a former teammate that gave Harris the second of many chances in the NFL.

Due to Chris Kuper sustaining a nasty leg injury in the 2011 regular season finale, Harris was signed by the Broncos to add offensive line depth for the playoffs and for training camp the following year.  Despite the professional homecoming and second opportunity at professional football, Harris’ second stint in Denver was short lived. He was released by the Broncos at the end of training camp in 2012 and was immediately snatched up by the Gary Kubiak led Houston Texans.

By joining Kubiak’s team in the AFC South, Harris was once again immersed in the blocking scheme that once made him a highly regarded offensive tackle.  Even though he only started five game in his two years as a Texan, it may have been his time as a reserved that served as the most beneficial to his career.  Harris was able to play in a scheme that he was comfortable with and gave him the necessary amount of time to heal from whatever lingering wounds he had from seasons past.  For a player that had everything from toe to back injuries, this time in Houston gave him the great opportunity to play but not be thrust into a starting position, thus sparing him the stress on his body that could have sustained further injuries.  Unfortunately for Harris, his professional career was once again be altered by a coaching change.

After suffering a disastrous 2-14 season in 2013, Houston fired Gary Kubiak as its head coach and in one fell swoop, mirrored a situation that the Broncos had faced a few years prior.  Out with a former Broncos coach and in with a Bill Belichick disciple, Harris had once again found himself at odds with the new blocking scheme and fit with a team.  Harris ended up becoming a free agent after the 2013 and again, found himself on the street.  Healthy and entering the prime years of his career, Harris was anxious to get his next life in the NFL.

That next opportunity came shortly before training camp in 2014, signing a one year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. Harris was immediately shuttled into the starting line up, starting all but one game for the Chiefs in 2014.  With a season in which he played at full health and proved to be an effective starter, Harris re-entered the free agent market as an established tackle that teams could rely on.  Despite being an intriguing option for many teams in free agency, it was the team the he belong to twice before that ultimately gave him his next job.

Harris began his third stint with the Broncos in May 2015.  He was initially brought in to provide veteran depth to their younger players, but through virtue of injuries and inexperience, Harris was once again thrust into the starting line up(first at right tackle, then to left tackle).  He currently sits as the starting Left Tackle for the Broncos with teammate Tyler Polumbus taking snaps from him in relief duty.  In what appears to be a player with nine career lives, it’s amazing to see how Harris’ career has come full circle. At one time, he was an early round pick who showed the ability and poise necessary to become a great player in the NFL.

After taking some hits along the way, Harris has found himself back with the team that drafted him and playing in a situation in which his role may be important as it has ever been.  To see a player shine, fall down, work his way back up and become an important player again is truly beautiful to watch. Harris’ story, like many of the unsung heroes, is one of defiance and resisting the urge to quit.  I, for one, am happy to see Harris back with the Broncos and playing an important role for this team’s potential Super Bowl run.  Who knows what the future holds for Harris after this year, but there’s no question, he’s earned his right to be on any NFL roster today.