DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Last year it often seemed Miami Dolphins rookie defensive end Charles Harris didn’t have a prayer to reach the quarterback, and now he does.
The first-round draft pick from Missouri turned to his faith to shake the funk he found himself in last season when he totaled two sacks, which tied for 156th in the NFL.
“As a rookie, I was in a dark place,” he says. “Now I’m cool. I understand grace.”
Harris says he’s optimistic he’ll fulfill his potential this season, and a week into training camp, so are the Dolphins.
“I actually think Charles Harris has probably had the best offseason of anybody on our team,” four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake says. “He came back in tremendous shape. He has obviously been working on his strength; he has been working on his football. I think that’s definitely going to pay off when it comes time to put in the live bullets and get after the quarterback.”
Coach Adam Gase repeatedly defended Harris last season, saying the rookie was more disruptive than statistics would suggest. But the Dolphins were hoping for a bigger impact from the No. 22 overall pick in the draft.
Harris says off-the-field issues complicated his adjustment to the NFL. The Kansas City native says he struggled with the move to South Florida, and with the sudden wealth that accompanies a $6 million signing bonus.
“There was a lot of confusion,” he says. “This offseason I just prayed a lot, prayed about my lifestyle, prayed about things off the field. Just like Revelation, I asked God for Solomon-like wisdom, and he blessed me with it. … I’m using my talents and not burying them. Last season I buried them.”
Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch, a second-round draft pick in 2012, says he can see the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Harris beginning to blossom.
“He’s a monster,” Branch says. “He has always had talent, but it takes time. He was a rookie coming into a program where he’s expected to do a lot. He’s a high draft pick. I’ve been there. There are a lot of things on your shoulders, and you’re young. You have no clue what to do and who to go to. But he’s coming into his own.”
Harris plays the deepest position on the roster. Along with Wake and Branch, two-time Pro Bowler Robert Quinn and veteran William Hayes are expected to be part of the rotation.
More pressure on the quarterback is mandatory if the Dolphins are to improve on last year’s 6-10 record. They had 30 sacks last season, the team’s lowest total in a decade, which is a big reason they gave up more points than all but three other teams.
Harris says he’s spending camp perfecting two or three pass-rush moves, preferring to polish them rather than add more that he doesn’t do as well.
Wake and Quinn make for great mentors, he says, because their styles are so different.
“They’re two different varieties,” Harris says. “I’ve got a power rusher and a finesse rusher at the same time. I feel like I can combine both of them and be one of the greatest.”
Gase is encouraged by what he has seen lately from Harris, but taps the brakes on any soaring expectations, noting limitations on contact make it difficult to evaluate defensive linemen during practice.
“For me it’s hard sometimes, because we’re asking these guys to stay away from the quarterback,” Gase says. “Once we hit real games, then that’s going to be easier for us to say, ‘OK, here’s where we’re at with his development, and where do we need to go next?’”