Skip to main content

Rookie Nick Harris strives to become 'best version' of himself at right guard

Harris was quickly needed at guard against the Giants and could still be needed at the position in Week 16

Nick Harris doesn't remember much from the first few minutes after he heard his name called to the huddle Sunday night in New York.

Before the call came, Harris was watching the game unfold the same way he had in the Browns' previous 14 games: on the sidelines. He was only needed as a blocker for special teams, which is a normal assignment for a player as young as Harris, 22 and a 2020 fifth-round draft selection.

But when Chris Hubbard fell to the turf with a knee injury on the second play of the Browns' first offensive series, Harris strapped on his helmet and readied himself for his first heavy load of NFL snaps.

Then, his memory went blank.

"There wasn't enough time to think about it," Harris said. "(Hubbard) went down, and I knew I was the next guy in for the interior. I didn't have enough time to think. I ran out there, we called the play and we were rolling."

Harris was in the zone, though. He focused like a laser on keeping his segment of the offensive line together, and it worked. The group, which has ascended as one of the best units in the NFL, didn't lose its ferocity with Harris — the Browns still rushed for 106 yards against the Giants and were lifted by 297 passing yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers.

Coach Kevin Stefanski announced Monday Hubbard was going to miss "significant time" with his injury. He didn't have any doubt, however, about inserting Harris as the starter after reviewing his tape Monday morning.

"He did his job," Stefanski said. "He played hard. He was assignment-sound, got people on the ground, and I was very pleased with how he performed."

Check out photos of the Browns against the Giants

Harris has been ready for this opportunity since he heard his name called on Day 3 of the NFL Draft. He's been used to being thrown in the fire since he was a true freshman at Washington, where he started two games at left guard and another two games at right guard. After that season, Harris was a mainstay for the Huskies and switched to the starting center his junior year.

But the big roles kept coming for Harris when he arrived in Cleveland. Starting center JC Tretter was unavailable for almost the entirety of training camp with a knee injury. When the Browns took their first reps of the training camp — they didn't receive any team practices in the offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic — Harris was snapping the ball to quarterback Baker Mayfield.

He didn't know if he'd still be needed at center when Tretter returned. He didn't know if he'd be needed for what was then a wide open competition at right guard, the only spot on the offensive line that didn't have a clear starter at the time.

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

That opportunity didn't come in Week 1. Despite Harris' solid training camp with the first team, he was expected to develop behind Tretter, an eight-year veteran, at center and prepare in case of emergency to fill in at guard.

The emergency happened Sunday. When Hubbard went down, the only linemen left on the Browns' bench were Harris, Kendall Lamm, who's been used as a swing tackle this season, and Michael Dunn, who was promoted from the practice squad before the game.

Harris was ready to go. He's spent time preparing at both center and guard all season, but he didn't care where he was needed. Center, guard, tight end, punter — he was ready to play.

That didn't go unnoticed by his teammates, either. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry made sure to speak with Harris after the 20-6 win and let him know how much he appreciated being there for the offense. The moment wasn't too big for Harris, and one of the Browns' biggest leaders wanted to make sure he knew that.

"The first person I went to after the game was him," Landry said. "He stepped up, stepped in and did what he had to do. The offense continued to flow as is. I told him 'I appreciate you. I appreciate the way you work. I appreciate the way that you can step into a role that you maybe weren't prepared for and still be able to get the job done.' It speaks volumes about this kid."

The Browns will likely continue to rely on Harris for next week and potentially beyond. Stefanski expects Hubbard to miss "significant time," while Wyatt Teller, who was the Browns' Week 1 starting right guard, continues to recover from an ankle injury. His status is "week-to-week."

Until then, Harris is the next man up at right guard. He proved Sunday that he'll always be in the zone at any position, any time.

"I just play how I play," he said. "I'm just trying to build off that and become the best version of the best player I can be."