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When Walt Harris tore a ligament in his knee before the 2009 season, the first thought that rushed into his head was, "Well, that's it."
At the time, Harris was nearly 35 years old and had 13 years in the NFL on his resume, far more than the average football player.
But that was the emotional response. After taking some time off to get some perspective, Harris decided to give a comeback a shot.
"I wanted to depart the league on my terms," Harris said. "Not like that."
After missing all of last season, Harris is back, healthy, and confident that he can provide the Ravens with a shot of veteran savvy.
If veteran cornerback Fabian Washington isn't ready to lace it up Sept. 13 against the Jets, Baltimore was likely looking at starting Cary Williams, 25, or K.J. Gerard, 24. Harris, who signed on July 7, provides a longtime starter that could fill-in if needed.
"When you have such a young group, it's always advantageous to have someone in that secondary who's a little more experienced," Harris said. "I definitely think I add a whole lot of experience and expertise. Playing this position is different after you've done it a few years."
Harris was originally drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1996, 13 picks ahead of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (a fact Harris found weird and humorous). Harris and Lewis are the only active players remaining from that year's first round.
So how has Harris stuck around so long?
First of all, it's not like playing linebacker, Harris said. Cornerbacks don't take quite as much abuse. Second, Harris said he has honed his physical and mental training during the season and offseason. It's not about killing yourself during training camp or in-season practices to impress coaches, Harris said.
The formula has certainly worked. Harris has had some of his most productive seasons during the latter stages of his career. During his past three seasons, he logged double-digit pass deflections and an average of five interceptions.
He went to his first Pro Bowl in 2006 (his 11th year) when he was 32 years old.
"I'm still very confident in my skills, very confident in my ability to play the game," Harris said. "I've done it for years."
At first, rehabbing his knee was just a personal challenge. Harris wanted to see if he could get back.
It became a reality in June, a little more than a year after his original injury, when he was cleared by doctors. Harris decided to try out for the Ravens first because they had reached out to him and because he thought he would have a chance to win a Super Bowl.
When Harris worked out on June 9th and 10th, the final two days of Ravens organized team activities, it confirmed to him and coaches that he could play again.
Now he says he's 100 percent heading into training camp and retirement isn't on his mind.
"As long as I feel I can go out and play at a high level I'm going to try to continue to play the game," Harris said. "Playing at a high level, that's something I can still definitely do."