DeMeco Ryans and Richard Hightower spoke highly of the former safety and now linebacker convert after Thursday’s practice
After Wednesday’s practice, all three coordinators addressed the media about the state of their squads before the final preseason game and cutdown day. Obviously, Mike McDaniel, DeMeco Ryans, and Richard Hightower fielded questions about all the usual suspects, Trey Lance, Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, etc. You know the ones.
Amongst all the chatter of who’s starting at quarterback, who’s looking healthy enough to get reps, and who’s fighting to make the roster, an interesting name received extensive praise from not one but two of the top lieutenants.
Marcell Harris has been the very definition of a value find for the 49ers. The hard hitter was drafted in the sixth round out of Florida and has been more than serviceable as a practice squad call-up at strong safety, while Jaquiski Tartt dealt with injuries.
The most impactful and indicative play of his three-year career was in 2019 against the Baltimore Ravens when he stripped the ball from a scrambling Lamar Jackson.
What a play by Marcell Harris! #GoNiners
— NFL (@NFL) December 1, 2019
However, all the savvy and sure tackling in the world couldn’t hide his issues in pass coverage. This glaring issue led to a stroke of genius by the coaching staff that has shown a willingness to experiment with hybrid, tweener players, especially at linebacker.
Under the tutelage of Ryans, a former All-Pro LB himself, the Niners have developed one of the most athletic and lethal linebacking corps in the league. This year, they’ll be welcoming a new member in Harris, who’ll be joining their ranks. So far, he’s seemed to have adjusted well, contributing four tackles against the Chargers, including one in which he effectively erased Tyron Johnson from existence.
When asked about Harris’s progress at transitioning to a new position, Ryan said this.
“Marcell has grown. I think every day Marcell has grown and he’s becoming better at having a really good feel of playing at that second level at the linebacker spot. It seemed like a play he made yesterday, just him feeling the D-Line and playing off of the D-Line. I see him developing and transitioning into being able to us there at that linebacker spot. So, Marcell, like I said before, he’s a playmaker, wherever he is on the field, you know he’s going to always be around the ball. He’s going to find a way to get the ball out. And I’m just excited with his growth process at the linebacker position.”
The designation of playmaker is an apt and meaningful one for Harris. It certainly stands to help his case to make the team and demonstrates how highly he’s valued. Ryans continued, lauding his versatility and abilities, “Whatever we need from Marcell… Like, I said, when you have a playmaker of his caliber, you just need to find a way to get him on the field so he can help us win.”
To be clear, Ryans wasn’t, literally, pounding on the table during that answer, just metaphorically. However, with all that in mind, I would certainly watch for Harris to be deployed on blitzes and other plays that call for his aggressive style around the line of scrimmage.
Later, Richard Hightower, the special teams’ coordinator, was asked if he considers Harris one of his top contributors and went into more detail about what makes the player such a standout.
“He’s always been one of the good players here. He makes a lot of tackles. He commands a lot of double teams and he quite honestly breaks through those double teams and still makes tackles. So, Marcell has been a good contributor for us and that was a hell of a draft choice that they drafted Marcell because he’s come in and done everything that we expected him to do and more. So, I’ve been real pleased with Marcell.”
Hightower’s ringing endorsement perfectly aligns with Ryans on what Harris offers when he steps on the field. For a player of his standing to be highlighted in a press conference by two different coordinators means you can pretty much chisel his name on the 53-man in stone. Considering his countless contributions, it’s completely deserved.