Even before Travis Lewis busted up his left big toe, Javon Harris was on a mission.
First, Harris was out to reclaim the starting free safety spot that began slipping away as camp opened. With the Sooners coaching staff deciding to experiment with Tony Jefferson at free safety, Harris was in jeopardy of going from the starter at the end of spring to the bench by the start of the season.
“I knew I was going to have to come in and compete. I knew the depth at the safety position was going to be strong,” Harris said. “But once I found out the experiment was going to happen, it did fire me up. It fired me up a lot.”
When Lewis cracked a bone in his toe Monday, however, the experiment was off. Harris immediately went back to being the starting free safety. Jefferson went back to his nickel back position.
Now, with Lewis projected to be sidelined eight weeks, Harris is more determined than ever to keep his spot.
“If I'm going to come in, I'm going to take over a leadership role and not just come in and be a role player,” said Harris, who recorded 28 tackles, forced a fumble and blocked a punt in spot duty as a sophomore last season.
The Sooners need a motivated Harris.
He's replacing an All-American in Quinton Carter. And if that's not enough of a hurdle, flanking him in the secondary is strong safety Aaron Colvin, a sophomore who, like Harris, is also a first-year starter.
But Harris sounds convinced that an entirely new set of safeties can now anchor the Sooners defense. The source of his confidence is the reps he received last year at both safety positions, as well as snaps on just about every special teams unit. Colvin, meanwhile, is replacing Jonathan Nelson but Harris said Colvin should benefit from the experience he got playing cornerback last season, when he recorded 34 tackles and forced a fumble.
“I feel like we all have that experience to come in and play,” Harris said. “And at the same time, I feel like we can all come in and do the same things that those safeties that left (did). We had to learn from those guys.”
Harris soaked up any and everything he could from Carter, a fourth-round draft pick by Denver. On road games, Harris roomed with Carter. It was on those trips that Harris leaned most on Carter to learn more about the game's nuances. He watched how Carter led his team, studied how Carter played with great pace.