JACKSONVILLE – This was lofty praise.
That's particularly true considering it came from Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone, who typically takes a cautious approach when discussing young players during training camp.
Here's what Marrone said Tuesday when asked about strong safety Ronnie Harrison:
"I look at Ronnie as a guy that's a playmaker back there."
If that doesn't sound that lofty, consider Marrone's definition of "playmaker."
"I'm talking about being able to go up, get a ball, create turnovers, be physical in tackling, create turnovers by tackling, create turnovers and actually getting the ball and probably scoring," Marrone said before Day 5 practice at Jaguars 2019 Training Camp at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex adjacent to EverBank Field.
That's above-the-Xs-and-Os stuff – and it's indeed high praise. But it's typical of the discussion around Harrison since the Jaguars selected him from the University of Alabama in Round 3 of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Harrison was impressive enough as a rookie that the team worked to get him on the field in a "big-nickel" package. He wasn't starting because the Jaguars entered 2018 with two now-departed veteran starting safeties, Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson.
Harrison is entering '19 as a starter, and he's confident he is ready for the role.
"Coming into this second year, it's my second look at everything," he said. "I'm comfortable with the defense and comfortable with the roles and the calls and stuff like that. It was really beneficial to me."
The Jaguars drafted Harrison in '18 with the idea he would spend his rookie season as a backup before moving into the starting role this season. It's the sort of draft-and-develop plan teams must execute successfully in the salary-cap era, and Harrison called Church and Gipson's presence during his developmental season "two blessings for me."
"They accepted me last year," he said. "They didn't have to do that. They taught me the playbook, taught me the game a lot, gave me a lot of tips and stuff like that, so I just tried to soak it all in as best as I could for this year, and I felt like that helped me out a lot."
Harrison enters '18 not only as a full-time starter, but as the focal point at a position that got dramatically younger in the offseason. Not only has Harrison started just eight games, fellow starting safety Jarrod Wilson enters the season with just two NFL starts.
When discussing Harrison and Wilson, Marrone and defensive coordinator Todd Wash have emphasized both players' ability to play in coverage close to the line of scrimmage.
Harrison said he also expects that versatility to help the tandem.
"It always keeps the offense guessing and on its heels," Harrison said. "They never know who's coming down, who's going to be in the middle, what's going to happen. We both can do a lot of things. We're both athletic, can blitz, can cover the slot, can play the middle.
"It just makes the defense a little more dangerous."
Marrone said Harrison impressed immediately with his football intelligence upon joining the Jaguars and said he has been pleased with the progress of both Wilson and Harrison during training camp. Harrison said one reason his progress has been smooth is how coaches handled his rookie season – increasing his role and playing time as the season continued.
"That was great for them to do that for me," Harrison said. "That just helped a lot and built my confidence week by week. Last year I was kind of just trying to see where I was fitting in to this defense. This year, it's kind of clear cut where I'm at – at strong safety – so I'm just trying to come in and work hard every day first off, earn the trust of everybody that's been out there playing.
"I'm just trying to show them that I'm ready, staying in my playbook, training hard, studying the plays. Just trying to get it all down, attacking every day like it's a game."