Just a few months ago, Walt Harris wasn't sure if his nine-year NFL career would continue into this season. The 5-11, 192-pound cornerback had injured a tendon in his left knee and despite his best efforts, he wasn't confident that his rehabilitation would allow him to play at a high level.
He was wrong.
Despite missing most of the preseason due to the injury, Harris has been a solid third cornerback for the Redskins this season. He occasionally covers the opposing team's best receiver, since assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams likes to shift his cornerbacks around to take advantage of match-ups.
"It really put things in perspective when you're on the sidelines watching," he said this week. "You pretty much have to thank God for getting you back out there again."
This Saturday, for the first time this season, Harris will draw a start against the San Francisco 49ers. He will take the place of Shawn Springs, who suffered a concussion in last Sunday's game against Philadelphia.
Harris is no stranger to starting in the NFL. He has started 113 games in his career, but none this season as the Redskins' third cornerback.
Harris said that it wouldn't be a difficult transition returning to the starting lineup.
"Not for me," he said. "That situation last year was kind of unique last year because I was coming off of knee surgery and trying to recover. So I accepted the role I was with for this team.
"I think I've done pretty well. My main thing is, when I'm out there, I want to contribute on any aspect of the team I can, whether it's special teams or on special downs."
Harris has been so solid as a third cornerback that he has earned more recognition for himself this season on special teams. In the Week 9 game against Detroit, he scooped up a fumble and raced 13 yards for a touchdown. Four weeks later, against the New York Giants, he blocked a punt by Jeff Feagles and helped set up another Redskins' scoring opportunity.
Harris's one interception this season came in Week 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals and second-year quarterback Carson Palmer.
Harris has been a solid defender everywhere he's played. A former first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 1996, Harris collected a career-high 113 tackles (93 solo), two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and 18 passes defensed as a rookie.
After six years with the Bears, he moved in to Indianapolis, where he played the last two seasons and helped lead the Colts to the AFC Championship game last January. In the postseason, Harris logged 14 tackles (8 solo) and one interception.
Overall, Harris has appeared in 118 games, with 500 career tackles and 17 interceptions.
In this Saturday's game, the Redskins will also have to depend on other young cornerbacks to fill nickel and dime packages. Youngsters Ade Jimoh and Garnell Wilds could see significant action against the 49ers.
Harris, who has a somewhat quiet demeanor, said he would assume more of a leadership role on the field on Saturday.
"I will be more vocal out there to help them out," Harris said. "My thing is, I always lead by example. I bring guys along. I always believe the young guys should watch the older guys and see what they do. That's the best way to find your way in this league."
Harris, who signed a three-year deal with the Redskins last offseason, is already looking forward to next season.
"Even though this season isn't over, I'm already getting ready for next year," he said. "I'm anticipating what I need to do physically to play better."