Arkansas-Pine Bluff linebacker Jer-ryan Harris was limited to seven games last season dealing with a hamstring injury. His sophomore season wouldn’t be anything like the year before, when he led the SWAC with 129 tackles.
While it took him a few months to recover from the injury, it look him longer to recover mentally.
“It was really weighing on me at first,” Harris said. “But after having support from my teammates, I was really able to come back mentally.”
After practice Monday, Harris flashed a wide smile on his face when he was asked how healthy he is.
“I’m 100 percent,” he said with glee.
And he said he’s back to his 2010 form, which is good news for the Golden Lions linebackers.
The team’s last two tackle leaders each had 100-tackle seasons and are ready for a full season together. Harris will line up with, Bill Ross, who had 107 last year, and fifth-year senior Joe Dalton.
More tackles for the unit are just part of what Ross expects from his senior season, and he thinks Harris is the right fit to help him.
“We’re going to fit right together,” Harris said. “We’re stronger. We’re going to hold the middle down.”
Ross emerged as the unit’s leader from the first game last season, when Harris still wasn’t healthy enough to play. Ross was second in the conference in total tackles and made second-team All-SWAC.
“He had a phenomenal year,” linebackers coach Earl Buckingham said. “(He has to) just pick up from where he started and continue doing what he’s doing. He did everything we asked him to do. Just continue doing that and be more intimidating.”
The intimidation factor might not be a problem for Ross, who’s picked up some linebacking traits from Harris to improve his game.
“He’s a real runner to the ball,” Ross said of Harris. “He runs to the ball like I’ve never seen anyone do before. I’ve been trying to get that trait from him and I think I have been more of a downhill run-stopper. I think he’s taken that under me because he’s improved in that. We really fit together well.”
Harris said he’s had to improve in his coverage skills. The Lions’ defense has worked on eliminating confusion between the linebackers and secondary in coverage to prevent costly big plays.
“I don’t think everybody was in sync as far as the secondary and linebackers coverage-wise, but this year things seem to be coming together,” Ross said. “Without the big play, we would be holding a ring on our fingers right now.”
Dalton could position himself for a big season on defense. He was second on the team with 65 tackles and shared the team lead with Michael Johnson in sacks with seven.
Harris had 36 tackles last year, but Buckingham is expecting that count to be higher this time.
“We’re expecting a lot from him,” he said. “He knows he needs to step it up and get back on track.”