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Harris odd man out again

July 19, 1997

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) _ Bernardo Harris didn’t blow his top when the Green Bay Packers acquired three-time Pro Bowl selection Seth Joyner.

In just his third season, he’s already gotten used to this sort of thing.

This is the second straight summer that Harris was about to become a starter when the Packers upgraded at linebacker.

``It’s something I can’t control,″ said the mild-mannered middle linebacker from North Carolina. ``We’re just trying to get the team better, trying to get the best team out there.

``And if it will help us get a Super Bowl? Whatever it takes to get the team better, it really doesn’t matter to me.″

Last year, second-year pro Brian Williams made such an impression at training camp that the Packers put him on the weak side and moved George Koonce to the middle, sending Harris to the bench.

Harris, who battled through a broken arm in training camp his first year to make the 53-man roster as a virtually unknown free agent, made his mark elsewhere, leading the Super Bowl champs with 21 special teams tackles.

In the offseason, Koonce underwent reconstructive knee surgery. He’s not expected to return until October. Then, Wayne Simmons went on a free agent tour.

Harris figured his time had come.

But Simmons found no takers on the open market and re-signed for $1 million this year.

Then, the Packers went out and got Joyner, also for $1 million this year.

With Simmons back on the strong side, Harris is still listed as the starting middle linebacker ahead of the newcomer.

But it appears it’s just a matter of time before Joyner, who arrived on Friday, masters the Packers’ terminology and unseats Harris.

``Seth is one of the outstanding outside linebackers in football. Now, we’re giving him a chance to play inside,″ coach Mike Holmgren said.

How’s Harris handling it?

``About as well as you could,″ Holmgren said. ``He’s doing fine. It’s really no reflection on Bernardo. We’re just trying to make sure we’re solid and in case there’s an injury.″

Holmgren spoke with Harris and detected disappointment but also resolve.

``I just said, you know, keep fired up. But it’s hard. You’re playing a position and all of a sudden you bring in an All-Pro linebacker at that position,″ Holmgren said.

``But he’s handling it the way I would expect him to handle it and he’s really having a good camp.″

``The acquisition of Seth Joyner has nothing to do with the development of Bernardo Harris,″ defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur insisted. ``He has exceeded our expectations in there as a middle linebacker.″

Harris said he was confident that he could still win the starting job.

``They said their goal is to get the best three guys on the field to help the team win,″ he said. ``So, I’m just going to work hard and hopefully I will be in the top three.″

Either way, Harris said Shurmur will find ways to get him on the field, maybe even in a 3-4 scheme with three down linemen and four linebackers.

``Eventually, things will work out and I’ll get a chance to play,″ Harris said. ``You just have to suck it up and come out and compete, work hard. You never know what can happen. Just keep working and keep getting better.″

What has surprised observers so far is how such a soft-spoken individual could play middle linebacker in the NFL.

``You think of a linebacker and Ray Nitschke kind of set the tone for linebackers in the NFL,″ Holmgren said. ``Bernardo, personality-wise, is not like Ray. But he is a good linebacker.

``And if you are our signal caller inside, you just have to be a little more vocal, and he can do that,″ Holmgren added. ``It’s not a confidence thing. He knows what to do.

``Now, he just has to play a little bit.″

Harris’ sentiments exactly.

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