Harris next in line at linebacker

CHARLOTTE – Nic Harris hopes he can be the guy to replace injured linebacker Dan Connor when the Panthers play Tampa Bay on Sunday, but Harris doesn't want to be "that guy."

"My definition of 'that guy' is somebody who is not prepared," Harris said. "I'm going to come in and do what I need to do for this defense.

"I want to come out strong for my teammates."

Harris made a strong debut when Connor went down a hip injury in the first half of last week's game against New Orleans, producing five tackles and half a sack.

Connor's injury turned out to be season ending, and Harris looks like he'll have the first shot at replacing him, albeit in a new alignment.

Connor had been playing middle linebacker, a spot previously occupied by Jon Beason. Now Beason will shift back to the middle, with Harris taking Beason's spot on the weak side, where he has the most experience.

"Nic's doing a great job," Beason said. "A lot of times guys step in and there's usually a little curve, a little point where you can get really comfortable. He's looked great."
Carolina also has other options they could consider in various alignments alongside Beason and strongside linebacker James Anderson. The Panthers claimed Jason Williams off waivers from the Dallas Cowboys last week, re-signed Abdul Hodge back to the roster this week and have had Jordan Senn on the roster all season.

All of the options are relatively new to the team, and Harris is relatively new to the linebacker spot. He spent most of his time at safety at Oklahoma, earning third-team All-America honors as a senior in 2008.

The Buffalo Bills drafted him in the fifth round of the 2009 draft and moved him to linebacker. He played in the first 15 games of the season, making a pair of starts late in the year. Harris recorded a team-high 12 tackles at Atlanta on Dec. 27 but hurt his knee and was put on injured reserve with just the season finale remaining.

The injury wasn't considered all that serious at the time, but Harris wasn't well enough to practice in a May mini-camp. He then failed his physical at the beginning of training camp and was waived.

The Panthers picked him up two weeks later. He contributed on special teams right away and now will get a chance to contribute on what has been a special group of linebackers so far this season.

"I came into the organization late, but I understand that I've just got to play my part," Harris said. "I knew that my part was to be on special teams and then when my number is called, go out there and do what I need to do.

"I don't know anybody that's going to come out and play perfect, but I think as we continue to jell and everybody gets a feel for each other, we can be great."

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