Training Camp Story of the Day

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Rookie C Nick Harris taking advantage of being 'thrown into the fire' as 1st-team center

For Nick Harris, receiving playing time earlier than expected is nothing new.

Since Harris began his college football career at Washington, the expectation has always been he'll be given time to develop. He was supposed to redshirt his freshman year with the Huskies. Instead, he played in 12 games and made four starts as a guard.

With the Browns, who picked Harris in the fifth-round of the 2020 draft, Harris was expected to be given a year or two to acclimate to the NFL.

Instead, he was taking first-team reps on Day 1 of training camp.

Harris was the first player coach Kevin Stefanski called when veteran center JC Tretter suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for a portion of the first week, and possibly longer, of team practices. He's molded well with the rest of the offensive line starters through three days of full practices and is preparing himself to be ready for the season opener if that's what the Browns need.

The temporary promotion to first-team center didn't come as a shock for Harris.

That's not, however, because he was expecting it. He's simply used to such surprises.

"When I heard it, I was just, 'OK. Well, here we go. I have to go now,'" Harris said Monday in a video call with local reporters. "It's a great opportunity to get thrown in the fire. That is how you learn the best. This whole process is not new. I know how to handle these situations."

Check out photos from the third day of Browns Camp

Harris was first catapulted into unexpected action as a true freshman at Washington. At 6-foot-1 and 270 pounds, coaches didn't think Harris would be ready to block the beefy linemen of Power 5 conferences, so they expected to give him a redshirt and grow into the position.

Then he wowed them with his quick feet and impressive leverage against any opponent. They inserted him as a backup to open the season, and by the end of the year, he was the starting right guard against Alabama in the Peach Bowl.

"When I got in, I learned the offense pretty fast, and it allowed me to play really fast and violent — like I like playing," Harris said about his freshman year in April after he was drafted. "They gave me a chance and asked me if I wanted to do it. I was like, 'Hell yeah. I want to play as soon as I can because taking a year off from football sounds horrible.'"

Harris became a cornerstone of Washington's offensive line and transitioned to center in his junior year. By the end of his college career, he was one of the top center prospects of the 2020 draft class. The Browns scooped him up in the draft.

But scouts and analysts still had concerns about his size. He's 6-foot-1, 302 pounds and smaller than the average NFL lineman. Are his feet quick enough? Are his legs strong enough?

Those are all questions Harris has heard before.

Those are all questions Harris loves to answer.

"I have been asked about that numerous times, and I kind of get excited a little bit," Harris said with a smile. "I know in the back of their mind, they're doubting me."

Harris believes his size is actually perfect. Because he's smaller than the average lineman, defensive opponents have to bend their knees lower than normal to generate more power. It also allows Harris to explode more with his lower body, a key step for a lineman to win trench battles.

"On paper, if I was 6-4, it would sound better," Harris said, "but I think functionally, if you really know the intricacies of playing this position, I have the ideal build, and I think other people also would think that."

Harris was ripe for an opportunity after spending the unusual offseason familiarizing himself with the blocking schemes of Stefanski's wide-zone offense. Harris' skills and quick feet are a great fit for the wide-zone scheme, which requires the center to run and quickly block incoming linebackers.

His dedication might be the reason why Stefanski gave him the first crack at first-team reps.

"I get the plays," Harris said. "I get the scheme and everything, so I just have to go out there and execute. It is what it is. It's a part of the game."

Sure, Harris has been thrusted into early action with the top linemen to begin training camp, but the expectation for Harris is he'll begin the season ready to help anyway he can as a backup to Tretter.

But that can change in an instant. He knows it better than anyone else.

"I'm just trying to optimize whatever role I have and whatever that may be," Harris said. "I'm just trying to be a role player for this team and whenever my opportunity comes, I'm ready for it."

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