Dwayne Harris: Man of many hats a key player for New York Giants
By: Ed Valentine
Every good company has at least one jack-of-all-trades, a person who can be counted on step in and fill a variety of roles. For the New York Giants the player who probably best embodies that is Dwayne Harris.
Need a punt or a kickoff returned? Let Dwayne do it, he’s one of the best in the business. Need a gunner in punt coverage? Let Dwayne do it, he’s one of the best in the league at that, too. Need someone to fill a spot on the kickoff coverage team? Let Dwayne do that, too. Need a slot receiver? Let Dwayne do it. An outside receiver? Again, let Dwayne do it.
What is the hardest part of handling so many different responsibilities? Sitting on a couch inside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, Harris recently took time to explain.
“It’s more mental because you’ve gotta learn so much stuff, you’ve gotta know where a lot of people are and you’ve gotta learn different techniques. You go from being on kickoff to doing different things. Receiver’s a different technique from the gunner, and just learning different stuff. You learn the offense, you learn kickoff returns and defensive coverages and how the coverage team is running down, how the punt return team is doing. What you’ve gotta do outside, inside. It’s more just mental than physical,” he said.
“You definitely take the pounding from getting hit on certain plays to hitting people on certain plays, but it’s more mental for me. The physical doesn’t really bother me much.”
Despite the many things he can do, Harris has never made it to the Pro Bowl. He isn’t one of the first wide receivers fans or analysts think about when they assess the Giants’ offense. He isn’t a guy commonly thought of as one of the team’s best, or most important, players.Add up the sum of everything he does, though, and that is exactly what Harris is.
Does the 28-year-old. entering his sixth NFL season, feel under-appreciated?”
“On this team? No. Outside people don’t really know what goes on in this building. They only see what they see on Sundays, and people don’t know how much hard work we put in inside this building,” Harris said.
“I just play football. I let everybody else talk about who’s gonna be where and what are these guys gonna do. I’m just playin’.”
Harris knows his coaches and his teammates understand what he does.
“Inside this building they appreciate me. They love me being here. The fans love me, but a lot of people still don’t think I can do the things that I can do even though they’ve seen me do it,” he said. “The guys inside this building they know what I can do. That’s all that matters.”
Let’s look in more depth at what Harris did in 2015 and what the Giants can expect from him in 2016 as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the team will bring to training camp later this summer.
2015 Season in Review
Harris averaged 10.0 yards on 34 punt returns, including one touchdown That was the Giants’ first touchdown on a punt return in six years. As already mentioned, he averaged 28.7 yards on 22 kickoff returns, also with one touchdown. He was the third Giant to have touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns in the same season, and the first since Jimmy Patton in 1955.
Harris played 175 snaps on special teams (35.2 percent) and 625 snaps on offense (56.1 percent).
It was as a receiver, though, where Harris really stepped up for the Giants in 2015. When he signed a much-criticized five-year, $17.5 million deal ($7.1 million guaranteed) with the Giants before last season both he and the Giants hoped he would prove to be a better pass catcher than the Dallas Cowboys ever gave him a chance to be in four seasons there.
He did so, getting a chance with Victor Cruz injured and Preston Parker playing his way out of the league. Harris had career highs in receptions (36), yards receiving (396) and touchdowns (4) in 15 games and six starts.
“I had a pretty good year,” Harris said. “When I wasn’t injured I did a good job and the staff thinks I did a good job … better than they thought I would.
“For me it’s just to build on that momentum from last year and to keep getting better.”
2016 Season Outlook
Harris will most likely continue to be the Giants’ primary kickoff and punt returner. He will fill the gunner role on punt coverage whenever necessary. He will find a place on kickoff coverage quite often. Those things are a given.
Even after the best receiving year of his career, though, the question is how much will Harris be relied on in the Giants’ offense?
The answer is probably largely out of his hands. That is because it lies in the health and productivity of Victor Cruz, and the development of second-round pick Sterling Shepard.
Harris, team player that he is, roots for both Cruz and Shepard to succeed.
“Definitely. They’re on my team, they’re my teammates. I want those guys to be the best they can be,” Harris said. “When they’re good the team is good. When everybody’s playing to their best potential that helps our team get to the playoffs and have a chance for the Super Bowl.”
What does Harris expect from Cruz, who has now missed 26 straight games and is trying to come back from a second serious leg injury?
“I expect Vic to come back stronger than he’s ever come back. I see him every day, I see how hard he’s working to get back and to be 100 percent healthy. Me and Vic, we talk every day and he’s working to get back and he feels like he’s going to be 100 percent. I feel like he’s going to be 100 percent. With him on the field our team is definitely going to be better.”
What of Shepard, the Oklahoma receiver many draft analysts have said was a great pick for the Giants, a perfect fit for their offense?
“He’s a good young guy. Got talent. I think everybody knows he’s got talent, everybody’s seen what he did in college,” Harris said. “That really doesn’t mean anything until you get to the NFL and you play your first NFL game and you’re productive. He has great upside. He’s a smart kid.
“They put him at the hardest position you have to learn, which is playing in the slot. Once he understands that position the offense comes so much easier.”
What appears to come easily for Harris is being a team player and, from all indications, a quality teammate. Whatever role the Giants ask him to fill they know he will be prepared.