Al Harris was a very good cornerback during his 14-year career in the NFL. After stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles, he made a name for himself with the Green Bay Packers during his seven seasons there when he was named a second-team All-Pro in 2007 and garnered two Pro Bowl nods. Harris played for Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy for five seasons as well when he coached in Green Bay.
Harris spent a year as a coaching intern for the Miami Dolphins (2012) and six years as an assistant secondary/defensive assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs (2013-2018). However, his ties to McCarthy came full circle when he was added to his staff in Dallas in 2020 as a defensive backs coach. Coincidentally, that was the same year the Cowboys drafted Trevon Diggs in the second round, and the dividends of having Harris on board started to pay off immediately.
Diggs had some growing pains as a rookie, including a broken foot that cost him four games. At the tail end of his first year, he showed the type of instincts that made him such a high draft pick with three interceptions in the final five games. In 2021, Diggs went to another planet when he tallied 11 interceptions, tying a Cowboys record set by Everson Walls in 1981. What's key to remember is that Diggs had only started playing the cornerback position full-time in 2017 when he was at Alabama, and he quickly turned into the league's most opportunistic defensive back.
Just before the Cowboys entered the playoffs that season, Diggs didn't hesitate to credit Harris for showing him the ropes when it came to mastering the cornerback spot.
Trevon Diggs: “(Al Harris) basically taught me everything I know as far as playing corner in the NFL, the technique, just how to read the quarterback…He knows exactly what's going on out there. So taking information from him, picking his brain every day has helped me out a lot.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 31, 2021
Thanks to the guidance of Harris, Diggs amassed 14 interceptions in his first 27 games. Harris gave his young protégé major kudos for his development.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Never seen anything like him,” said Dallas defensive backs coach Al Harris, who had 21 interceptions in 14 NFL seasons. “Once all the stars line up where it’s a look, a split, a release, once they line up, he takes off and goes and gets it.”
In 2022, Diggs hauled in three interceptions, far from his gaudy total the year before, but he received his second consecutive Pro Bowl nod. That wasn't the only thing that shined in the Cowboys' secondary, though. Rookie DaRon Bland, who Dallas took in the fifth round, ended up having a tremendous first year as he led the team with five interceptions and helped the Cowboys lead the NFL in turnovers for a second straight year.
Diggs would suffer a torn ACL back in September, causing a huge hole in the Cowboys' secondary. Bland has taken his game to another plateau in his absence as he currently leads the league with eight interceptions, and the five he's run back for touchdowns have set a single-season NFL record. It's safe to say that Bland will receive All-Pro honors in just his second year, and undoubtedly, Harris has a lot to do with his rise to stardom.
During this past offseason, the Cowboys added former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore in a trade. Back in August, Harris spoke on Gilmore in glowing fashion.
Cowboys DB coach Al Harris on Stephon Gilmore: “His preparation, he’s on it every single day. He eats right, studies, takes notes. And the thing about it is usually when you get guys that have the accolades that he has and the amount of years that he’s played, you kind of as a…— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 2, 2023
He may not be quite at the level that he used to be, but Gilmore is still one of the better cornerbacks in the game, and the little adjustments Harris has helped him with is certainly a reason why. Last week against the Eagles, after wide receiver A.J. Brown called him old, Gilmore had his best game as a Cowboy with nine tackles (all solo), which included a big fourth-down stop in the third quarter. He also forced a fumble from Brown.
STEPHON GILMORE FORCED FUMBLEpic.twitter.com/RL4jdU0Xz6— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) December 11, 2023
Harris has gotten Diggs and Bland to play at All-Pro levels, and he's helped Gilmore maintain his game as well. He's proof that all heroes don't wear capes, and in his case, it's simply a Cowboys shirt and a hat, but that's all he needs.