Rookie RT Harris braces for elite 49ers defense
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints rookie right tackle Bryce Harris is so grateful to have a chance to play in the NFL he isn't about to complain about the timing of his first career start, which is likely to come this Sunday against a San Francisco defense featuring some of the best pass-rushers in the NFL.
"I'm just glad to have the opportunity to start," Harris said following practice Thursday. "I'm lucky for all this to happen to me. I've just got to take advantage of my opportunities."
Harris entered the NFL with Atlanta as an undrafted rookie out of Fresno State and made the Falcons' practice squad before being signed to New Orleans' active roster in early September. Harris did not play a down until being pressed into service last week at Oakland, after Charles Brown went down with a right knee injury. Brown had been playing in place of injured starter Zach Strief, who has been sidelined since Nov. 5, when he injured his left groin during a victory over Philadelphia.
"It was nerve racking, obviously. Not warmed at all," Harris recalled of his unplanned debut in Oakland. "My head was just racing."
The Saints went on to win 38-17, and although Harris was beaten a few times after he first went in, he seemed to settle into his role as the game wore on.
"Bryce did a good job last week," said Strief, who returned to practice on a limited basis this week. "Obviously, he gets tossed into the fire in the middle of a two-minute drill. That's less than ideal. I feel his pain. I've been in this situation before. It's not easy physically. It's not easy mentally, especially as your first reps in a live game."
Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt said Thursday that Strief looked good in practice and appears to be ahead of schedule, but he stopped short of saying whether the veteran starter would be ready to play by Sunday.
For now, all signs point to Harris making his first start against the 49ers, whose lineup features defensive stars such as linebackers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith.
The 49ers allow an NFL-low 13.4 points per game. They have allowed 277.2 yards per game, which ranks second in the league. Aldon Smith has 15 sacks this season. Defensive end Justin Smith and linebacker Ahmad Brooks are also top play-makers on one of the league's best defenses.