Tue, 20 Apr 2021

Ageless Teenager Harris Keeps Snapping Deep Into Bengals Record Book

Cincinnati Bengals
06 Mar 2021, 20:58 GMT+10

Geoff Hobson

One of the reasons Clark Harris just signed up for another year as the Bengals long snapper is because he says he still has the mindset of a teenager. Which is about right because the kids who were born when the Packers took him in the seventh round of the 2007 draft are now teenagers.

Not only that, after the Packers cut him and he ended up on the Lions later that year, his fellow rookie on that club, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, has already been retired six years and elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Not only that, another wide receiver on those 2007 Lions, Troy Walters, is now the Bengals wide receivers coach.

After he bounced to the Texans in 2008 as a tight end/long snapper looking for a niche, Houston drafted Rice tight end James Casey in the fifth round of the 2009 draft to help make Harris expendable. Naturally, Harris played his first game for the Bengals against the Texans on Oct. 18, 2009 and, quite naturally, Casey is now the Bengals tight ends coach.

If he does what he's done in 10 seasons and play all 16 games, he'll mostly likely join his buddy Kevin Huber as the first Bengals in 32 years to play in a 200th career game.

He'll turn 37 before training camp, the oldest player on a roster that by then will be coached by 38-year-old Zac Taylor. The only special teams coordinator he's ever had in Cincinnati, Darrin Simmons, is assisted by 35-year-old Colt Anderson.

"I don't know," says Harris, offering the classic teenager answer about when he'll quit. "I have no plans."

Here's a guy that helped Carson Palmer win his last Paul Brown Stadium opener when field goals supplied all the points. He helped negotiate Andy Dalton's first PBS win on a walk-off field goal. He assisted Joe Burrow's first NFL victory on four field goals.

"New faces," Harris says. "I'm closer to the older guys, but I hang around the young guys, too. I play video games. I watch the same TV shows. It gives us a little common ground. We've all got families, we've all got kids. You start talking and get to know them and become buddies and hopefully we all get to stick around together."

Here's a guy who snapped it to Huber, his fellow golden oldie, as Huber relentlessly punted the Steelers into retreat during the War of 18-12 win that all but secured the Bengals' 2009 AFC North sweep. Here's a guy who helped deliver the 2012 playoffs on a last-play field goal in Pittsburgh, one of the biggest Bengals comebacks ever on an overtime field goal against Russell Wilson and Seattle in 2015 and Taylor's first NFL win in 2019 on three Huber tracers inside the 20 against the Jets.

But don't ask Harris about his most memorable snap. He can't remember and that's what makes him good.

"I couldn't tell you one snap from another. I have no idea," Harris says. "That's why I've been able to stay in the league so long. Whether I have a good snap or a bad snap, I just completely forget about it and move on. Whether we're in the first quarter or the last quarter of a game."

The thing for Harris is keeping a blank slate once the game begins. That's his advice for young long snappers from Cincinnati's Anderson High School to his high school in New Jersey (Southern Regional) to the final snap of a Super Bowl.

"Do what I do. Just forget good or bad plays. That goes for all specialists," Harris says. "If you have a bad one, forget about it. One bad thing leads to another bad thing and all of a sudden it gets into your head. But even if you make a great play and you get down field and make a tackle or force a fumble, you don't want to get too excited or pumped up and snap it over the guy's head. You just have to be even keel on game day. Be loose. Have a little fun. Forget each play you make and move on."

Actually, he does remember a snap. He ended his first NFL game back on Dec. 7, 2008 for the Texans when he whistled it back to holder Matt Turk for kicker Kris Brown's last-play 40-yard field goal that beat his old Packers team at Lambeau Field.

Turk, by the way, is now 52 years old.

"His level of understanding his job is as good as I've been around," says Simmons, an NFL special teams coach since, well, when Harris was really a teenager. "He's just like a coach on the field. I think he's seen every rush known to man."

And Harris and Simmons say blocking the rush on a punt is harder, if not more vital, than making the snap.

"Snapping is only a third of it," Simmons says. "The quickest way to get a punt blocked is if the snapper can't protect. In our league, only the gunners can leave when the ball is snapped. Our rules are very different. The snapper gets rushed a lot in the NFL."

The 6-5, 250-pound Harris says the biggest change since he got drafted 14 years ago is he no longer gets hit on kicks, thanks to the player safety rules. But they're still coming after him on punts.

"There was a guy for the Colts (Andy Studebaker)," Harris says of his 6-3, 251-pound nemesis from several years ago. "He had something on me. He dumped me on my butt pretty often.

"Snapping isn't the hard part. If you can throw a ball, you can pretty much learn how to snap. The hard part is blocking these guys way younger and athletic and stronger and all-around better than I am at sports. That's the hard part."

Harris, though, has proven to be an athletic match. Not only can he keep them away from Huber (the Bengals have allowed just four blocked punts with him as the triggerman), but Harris gets it to him without drama. According to Simmons, Harris is working on 1,699 career deep snaps for the Bengals without an unplayable delivery. Call him "No Lark Clark."

"If he had an unplayable snap," Simmons says, "he probably still wouldn't be our snapper."

Harris thinks Simmons may be a bit kind. He's thinking about a snap in his own end zone in Pittsburgh a few years back.

"That one is dicey," Harris says. "There was a snap that wasn't great and got mishandled. I still got credit for it being playable. But it wasn't a great snap. There's a slight asterisk next to it maybe. He said it was playable in the media. I can't disagree with that. But it was wet, it was miserable. It wasn't my best snap."

Harris is like a master carpenter. It is only he (and Simmons) who notice the scratches and nicks.

"Unplayable is a generous way of keeping a stat because it's not like I have 1,700 perfect snaps," Harris says. "It's like I have playable snaps. That's different. They may be playable, but they're not what I want or what the coach wants or what Kevin needs."

Harris may sound laid-back-teen-age cool, but he's got a competitive streak longer than the 72-yarder Huber imploded last season. Especially when it comes to Huber. Huber, who turns 36 before camp and drafted in '09, had a six-game head start on his Bengals career and that's why with 190 games played he's fourth on the Bengals all-time list.

When Harris makes what he hopes is his 1,700th straight unplayable snap on the first one of the 2021 season, he'll tie Hall-of-Famer Anthony Munoz with 185 games, sixth on the list.

"And he's still probably played more snaps in a season that I have in my career," Harris says.

Harris and Huber needle each other about how many games they've played. Harris had him when Huber missed the last two games of the 2013 season with the infamous broken jaw in Pittsburgh. But he hasn't missed one since and Harris came up lame for three games in 2016 for the only games he's missed.

"I'll catch up to him," Harris says.

Both are leering at Ken Riley's all-time Bengals record of 207 games. If Huber does as expected and re-signs in the next few weeks and then punts in all 16 games, he'll catch Reggie Williams at 206 in the '21 finale.

When told of Riley's record, Harris may now have some plans

"I hope I get to (200)," Harris says. "Now that I know that I'm reachable with the most ever, there's going to be a little competition now."

But Harris says he has no goals. If he came into the league with them, he figures he already would have surpassed them and he'd have nothing left.

"I don't really have goals," he says. "I just show up every day and work my hardest and one day I'll be, 'OK I don't want to do this anymore. Just go something else.'"

But for the Bengals ageless teenager, that day doesn't seem to be close yet.

"I've been thinking about it. I have no idea," Harris says of what's next. "Hopefully get a house some place warm, play some golf and hang out for a few years and figure something out from there."

Teenagers.

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