2004 has been a season that has seen its fair share of shake-ups in the secondary of the Green Bay Packers.
From the off-field distraction of the Mike McKenzie situation, to various injuries to various members of the defensive backfield, to working in a trio of first-year cornerbacks, not much has been steady in the Packers' back line of defense.
The one thing that everyone associated with the Packers - coaches, players, fans - could be sure of every week this season has been the reliable presence of Al Harris at the right cornerback position.
The seventh-year pro and second-year Packer has been the only member of the secondary, and just one of four Green Bay defenders, in the starting lineup for each of the team's nine games this year.
And Harris has done much more than just show up every game day. The cornerback, most famous in Titletown for his game-winning interception and touchdown return last January at Lambeau Field against the Seattle Seahawks, has developed into the Green and Gold's top cornerback, a fact not lost on GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman.
"I think Al Harris is playing as good as any corner that we've had since I've been here," Sherman said Monday. "He's playing extremely well. He's very aggressive, understands routes and tendencies of receivers."
Sherman feels that Harris, who previously had been a career nickel back with the Philadelphia Eagles before coming to Green Bay in a trade in the March 2003, has progressed tremendously in his season and a half with the Packers.
"He's playing extremely confidently in our defense," said the coach. "Last year, I would never have considered the possibility of playing him on the right side and the left side. He was primarily just a defensive right side corner. Now we feel like we can match him up on people. He's more confident in what we're doing, and we're very confident in what he's doing."
Sunday, facing a high-powered Minnesota Vikings offense, the 6-foot-1 Harris was primarily matched up with Minnesota's biggest receiver, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Marcus Robinson, who had already caught six touchdown passes on the season.
Harris turned in what has become a standard performance for him, holding Robinson to just two catches for 39 yards and recording a team-high three passes defensed, bringing his season total to 13, just one off his career-best 14 which he established in 2003.
The stellar showing came just one game removed from his game-clinching interception in the final minutes of the Packers' win at Washington.
Sherman said that a lot of Harris' success can be traced back to the practice field, but warned against underestimating his ability.
"He's a talented guy," Sherman stated. "I think he plays at the level he plays because of preparation, but he is a talented play. He's not just a "try hard" guy that studies hard, he has a lot of talent and he maximizes that talent with his preparation."
Although his play has been nothing short of outstanding, Harris doesn't see his performance as anything more than just doing his job.
"I'm just doing what they're telling me to do and hopefully it gives us a spark," Harris said after Sunday's win. "Basically, I just get in my little box and do what I have to do."
He was overjoyed with the team's latest win, which pushed them over .500 for the first time since their win in the season opener. The defender's satisfaction was for the fans that supported the team to their second straight home field victory as much as it was for himself and his teammates.
"It was a big division win," he said when asked about his jubilant reaction to the victory. "We lost a couple of games here early in the season, and we have the greatest fans, so that was just to thank them for standing behind us."
If Harris continues his steady play, the Lambeau Field faithful will have plenty to cheer about and plenty of reason to stand behind #31 and his teammates.