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Harris Looms As Key Player On 'D'

The Redskins took a chance on veteran cornerback Walt Harris a year ago. When they signed Harris in the offseason, they really didn't know how much they'd be able to get out of the nine-year NFL veteran.

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Harris, coming off a knee injury, held up better than expected.

The Mississippi State product played in all 16 games, with two starts, and his TD at Detroit off a blocked punt sparked a 17-10 Redskins win. Playing behind Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot in 2004, Harris was an insurance policy that paid dividends. He logged two interceptions and now has 19 in his career.

With the 2005 preseason at its halfway point, Harris would appear to be a key for the Redskins' defense once again. Springs looks solid at the right cornerback spot. Replacing Smoot at the other corner may take a little more work.

Given the showing the of Carlos Rogers in the Redskins' 24-17 setback to Cincinnati Friday night at FedExField, Harris appears to loom as an important part of the team's defensive machinery once again.

All indications are that Rogers, the team's top pick out of Auburn, will be an outstanding NFL player in the near future. But he's a rookie, and obviously still adapting.

Rogers showed flashes of his talents on Friday night with an interception; he also showed, against Kelley Washington and Carson Palmer, that he's a newcomer.

For those reasons, Harris, the 5-11, 191-pound wily veteran, becomes all the more vital. He started in the preseason opener at Carolina but sat out the Cincinnati game with a calf injury.

When the Bears come in Sept. 11 for the regular-season opener, Harris expects to be facing the team that drafted him in the first round (13th overall) in 1996.

Said assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams on Harris: "He's always been one of those kinds of guys that has the speed to play the position, but he also understands from our standpoint that when corners go out there, they've got face-masks on and shoulder pads on. We expect you to hit. And he'll rock you.

"He's been a physical corner and he plays the style of play that we like our corners to play."

As Rogers begins his development as an NFL player, the veteran Harris once again will have to produce for the defense that finished third best in the league in 2004.

"I always foresee myself as a starting corner, no matter where I'm playing," Harris says.

Rogers, clearly, is the long-term projected answer for the position. But in the short term, while Rogers is learning the lay of the NFL land, a healthy Walt Harris isn't a bad option.

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