In 2016, Dwayne Harris could easily have been mistaken for the patient in the seemingly ancient board game “Operation.” There was something wrong with just about every part of his body.
Sitting at his locker Wednesday, Harris recited the list of body parts that he injured at one point or another last season.
Neck, shoulder, back, elbow, wrist, knee, ankle, toe. That’s a loooong list.
Despite all of that, Harris played in 16 games. On more than one occasion, he went off the field looking like he wouldn't return, only to be back fielding punts or kickoffs a few minutes later. All of those bumps and bruises, though, had to play a factor in Harris’s down year as a returner. He averaged just 5.9 yards on punt returns, nearly four full yards below his career mark of 9.8 per return and well below the 10.0 he averaged in 2015. On kickoff return, his 24.2 yards per return mark was well below the 28.7 yards he averaged in 2015.
“It plays a big factor in it. As a returner if you’re not having functional body parts and you’re taking a lot of hits to your body it slows you down,” Harris said. “Slows you down a lot. ...
“When I’m healthy I think that’s probably when I’m at my most dangerous as a returner.”
Harris, though, understands his role. It’s one he has played throughout his six-year career, first with the Dallas Cowboys and now with the Giants.
“For me I have to do it. We don’t want to put Odell (Beckham) back there every time to take those hits and put that toll on his body. You don’t want to put Shep (Sterling Shepard) back there and take that toll on his body,” Harris said. “I try to go back there as much as possible so I can take the hits off of those guys and not put those guys in the position I’m in where I gotta get, or they gotta get injured or take a lot of blows that they don’t have to.
“I signed up for it. I know what I’m getting myself into every time I get back there.”
Harris knows that the 2016 season wasn’t good enough from a return standpoint.
“Lot of stuff goes into returning. It’s not just me out on the field. I have 10 other guys on the field with me. If they don’t do their job I can’t do my job. For me I think it was a whole group effort. It wasn’t just a bad year returning for me, it was a bad year for everybody,” he said.
“It makes my job harder if one guy’s not doing their job or three or four guys aren’t doing their job.”
Harris, who turns 30 later this month, has heard the criticism from the fan base and the calls for the Giants to replace him as the team’s primary return man. On Wednesday, he bristled when the subject was brought up.
“Everybody has a bad year. Everybody’s not going to be at the top. Devin Hester had bad years. Not one guy in the league who’s had a perfect year (every year) averaging 10 yards and 25, 26 yards on kick return. It’s never happened in football, ever. The best returner in the league never did it. For them to expect that I’m going to go out and return every punt or whatever, I do my best. I can only do as much as the people in front of me allow me to do. As a returner I just go do my job. I have confidence in those guys, as much confidence as they have in me.
“I take it with a grain of salt. Everybody can’t do punt return. There’s only a certain amount of people in the NFL who can do it and I’m one of those guys.”