After going undrafted, rookie Maurice Harris made big contributions in the win over the Vikings with three receptions for 28 yards, including his first catch in an NFL regular season game.
Maurice Harris wasn't the most talked about rookie wide receiver the Redskins added this offseason. He wasn't even the most talked about player coming out of Cal. But quietly overtime, Harris has been growing and learning as a player in the NFL. After his performance Sunday, it appears he is ready to establish his presence as an important member of the offense down the stretch.
In the win against the Vikings, Harris had not only his first catches in a regular season game, but three receptions at crucial points that helped seal the victory. All the work he put in since being signed as a college free agent in May is finally showing.
"Maurice has done an excellent job, and really he has picked up the system effortlessly," head coach Jay Gruden said on Monday. "He's a very intelligent football player, he's a physical football player in the running game. What really drew us to him was we kept him because of his size and his effort during the preseason – then the first couple games of the regular season scout team he was killing our defense. He was doing a great job running routes full speed and taking every rep, and we decided to promote him because of his effort. We gave him an opportunity to play and he didn't disappoint. Two big third down catches, like you said, [and] he blocked in the running game and did a good job."
Harris' ability to work hard and performed when called upon has been visible throughout his journey to the NFL. After redshirting his freshman year at Cal, he played college football for four years, three of them alongside Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, where Harris was a consistent receiver in a strong group of weapons. Harris joined many former Bears in trying to make it to the professional level after a successful senior season, helping the team to an 8-5 record.
After not being selected in the 2016 Draft, Harris was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Redskins in the offseason, adding to the team's already impressive group of receivers. For the young player, the veteran group has only been a positive, getting to learn from players with vast experience, including fellow former Bear DeSean Jackson.
"[I've learned] a lot. Learning from the older guys, really," Harris said. "Pierre [Garçon] and DeSean [Jackson], they teach me a lot ever since I've been here, just kind of take me under their wing and learn from them as much as I can."
Part of his growth came from his time on the practice squad, which he remained on until Oct. 21 when Josh Doctson was placed on Injured Reserve and Harris was put on the active roster in his spot. After two games with no throws in his direction, he got a chance to make an impact against the Vikings with Jackson out with an injury. Coming into the game he knew he was going to get the opportunities to show off how much he learned and didn't let his nerves get the best of him.
"I was a little nervous, a little nervous before every game, but once you get a couple plays and kind of get the flow going, it just kind of rolls from there," Harris said.
Check out the top images from the Washington Redskins' offense in their 2016 Week 10 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings Nov. 13, 2016, at FedExField.
To help calm himself down, Harris used an interesting approach to take himself out of the game situation he was in and retain the belief he has in himself.
"I always felt confident," Harris said. "I feel like if I can do it in practice, just kind of treat it just like practice and go in the game and do it. When your number's called you gotta be ready."
And when his number was called Sunday, he was certainly ready for the opportunity.
Harris caught all three passes thrown in his direction, including two that kept drives alive on third down plays, including one for 15 yards near the end of the third quarter that eventually lead to a crucial field goal. The 6-foot-3 receiver used his height well in the game to bring in tougher to haul grabs, which in addition to reliability, may help cement his use in future games.
While his 28 yards receiving may not be the most posted in a game, his contribution was important to the win and allowed his confidence to shine on the field when it mattered the most, a good sign for what it is to come.
"Not trying to make the situation as big as it is. Just kind of relaxing and just run your right route," Harris said of performing in big moments. "Make sure you do your job and I think everything else will take care of itself."