Penn State’s Defense More Aggressive With A.J. Harris Addition

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NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

The latest news, insight, and analysis of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, and Penn State Basketball, including schedules, game results, analysis of breaking news, rumors, speculation, and recruiting coverage of future Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home to the latest Penn State Nittany Lions news, updates, insight, and analysis, including in-depth coverage of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball, and much more

Penn State’s Secondary Got A Lot More Aggressive With Addition of A.J. Harris

Like most 4-5 star recruits, cornerback A.J. Harris was on Penn State head coach James Franklin’s radar while dominating the high school grid-iron scene at Central High.

Harris was the No. 1 prospect in Alabama while playing under the head coaching guidance of Patrick Nix, former quarterback for Auburn back in the early to mid 90s.

Penn State Football, Tom Allen
New Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Allen (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

But, the prodigy from Phenix City,  Alabama decided to take his talents to Athens, Georgia to play for Georgia Bulldogs’ head coach Kirby Smart’s program, fresh off of back-to-back national championships.

After a freshman year that saw him make eight tackles in his first seven games, the freshman phenom didn’t play in November and he opted for a change in scenery and came back knocking on Franklin’s door to see if Happy Valley was still an option.

What Drew James Franklin, Penn State to A.J. Harris

Penn State Football
Penn State Football head coach James Franklin  (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

Franklin and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith welcomed Harris back with open arms and he’s now part of a dynamic Penn State secondary that includes Cam Miller, Zion Tracy and Jalen Kimber.

After just a handful of spring practices, Harris’ aggressiveness has already opened his position coach’s eyes.


“That’s the only thing that’s on my mind when I’m on a football field,” Harris recently told reporters. “Domination and to be as aggressive as possible.”

The 19-year-old, who 24/7 Sports has projected as an NFL first-round pick, is already listed on the Penn State depth chart as the starting right cornerback, and appears to be pleased with his new choice of collegiate environments.

“It was more so making the best decision for me to grow as a man and as a football player,” Harris said. I believe, just off of the track record at Penn State, it has much more to offer than just football.  To grow past football, grow in the academic lane.  And then you got somebody like Coach Terry [Smith], who’s developed multiple DBs. It was a no-brainer.”


Harris Has Chance to Be Penn State’s Next Lockdown Cornerback

Here’s what stands out to me about this young man.

He’s honest and real about what he was looking for in a different program.

Of course, he said that he’s excited about many of the off-the-field elements that PSU gives him,  but two on-the-field elements may have been even more important to the true sophomore.  He wanted to go to a place that had a strong defensive line and a competitive cornerback room. He says he sees both in action during spring ball.

“I was looking for things that had to do with the defensive line,” Harris explained. “How the defensive line looked for the coming years, and then just, how will I be developed?  How would I develop past corner to get me to my ultimate end goal? And they definitely have a plan.

“The defensive line, it mattered a lot to me because the quicker they get to the quarterback, the less that I have to cover. So, I definitely need those guys up there getting to that quarterback as quick as possible.”

If you read between the lines here, any cornerback that has a defensive line that can force the opposing quarterback to hurry his throws, has an affinity for jumping routes, and Harris is all about making big plays, which speaks to his admitted aggressiveness and it is reflected in the many scouting reports on him.

Conversely, Harris’ preparation and his scouting of Franklin and Smith’s defensive scheme and philosophies was what really impressed the Nits’ headman about his latest blue-chip find.

 “One of the things with him right away is like literally,” Franklin recently told reporters. “We got on the phone with him the first time and then we got on the phone with him the second time and he had done his homework… like he knew our roster, he knew the coaches, he had watched our film, he had studied our film.

“He looked at the data and where we ranked and how we play defense so right away this guy was talking about the things in my mind that really matter.  That’s what was important to him and his family about choosing the right place from a fit perspective that was going to allow him to achieve his goals both on and off the field.”

Saturday’s Blue-White game will offer the new big man on campus the first opportunity to showcase his skills in front of his Lions brethren.

Harris says he’s looking forward to it, but understands how much work remains regardless of how well the spring scrimmage goes to be ready for the upcoming season.

“It’s bigger than football,” said Harris.  “They’re gonna develop me as a man and truly care for me as a person, which was something that I definitely looked for. Just the track record speaks for itself. They constantly put somebody in the league as long as you do the right thing up here and you listen to everybody around you.

“For me, right now it’s just understanding that I’m somebody who hasn’t put anything on tape yet. So every day is just a day to get better and get developed. I understand that, right now, I’m just practicing and trying to get ready for those Saturdays.  So, everything is just about the little details and making sure that I’m as detailed as possible in all my work to make sure I’m ready for those Saturdays.”

Penn State Football
Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

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Joe Staszak
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