METAIRIE, La. —When Bryce Harris was tossed into the fire against Oakland, he fulfilled the one Saints motto that transcends seasons and coaching changes.
He was the next man up. And he didn’t blink.
Well, at least in the end he didn’t.
On his first play, he stepped on right guard Jahri Evans’ foot and Oakland’s Tommy Kelly came crashing around him, swiping the rookie away with ease.
“It was stronger than I expected and I was like, ‘dang it,’ ” Harris said. “Got up and tried to recover. … The next play I was a little late reacting to (an) inside move but picked it up fine. After that I felt good.”
Indeed, the third play in which Harris was in broke open the game. Drew Brees got enough protection to find Lance Moore in the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
Days later, the reviews of Harris’ first-ever NFL snaps were positive.
“I felt like he did a very good job,” Brees said. “He was very calm and comfortable, a lot more so than I felt like typically a young guy getting his first action would have been.“
Perhaps no one had as good a view of what Harris was able to accomplish, though, than Evans, who lined up next to him for 33 plays.
“I think that he has picked our stuff up extremely well,” Evans said. “We have a lot of nuances in our technique and he’s really on top of that stuff. He has been really on top of that stuff, has a really good grasp of the offense.”
Harris was an undrafted free agent out of Fresno State who originally signed with the Atlanta Falcons. They cut him after training camp, signing him to the practice squad, where the Saints plucked him from on Sept. 10 after Marcel Jones injured his left knee.
At Fresno State, Harris started 39 consecutive games after switching to the offensive line from defensive tackle as a redshirt freshman. As a senior, he was first-team All-Western Athletic Conference.
His path to an NFL field this season wasn’t quick, though. He was a healthy inactive for each of the first seven weeks he was with New Orleans and he was active as a backup against Atlanta on Nov. 11, though he didn’t play.
It wasn’t until he was thrown into the two-minute drill in Oakland that he saw his first NFL action.
And now in what could be his first-ever start if Zach Strief isn’t ready to go, he’ll be tossed in against the league’s best defense, one that includes dynamic linemen Aldon Smith (15 sacks) and Justin Smith (80 tackles).
On Aldon Smith, Harris said, “He’s a great player. I’m just going to have to try to do my best to change it up on him, use my hands well and make sure he can’t use his long arms as an advantage against me.”
On Justin Smith, Harris said, ““That guy is strong. You can tell just by watching film he’s super strong.”
Both, Harris said, generally play on the side opposite of where he’ll play. Or, so he’s seen on film.
“I don’t think they’ll change their whole defense on account of me,” Harris said. “But if it happens, it happens. I’m just going to have to play strong, have a good base (and) have good hands.”
Regardless, Harris is just happy to be where he is after going through the draft without receiving a phone call.
“I’m just glad to have the opportunity to start,” he said. “(I was a) free agent out of college. I’m lucky for all this to happen to me. I’ve just got to take advantage of my opportunities.”