49ers OT Harris works hard to keep job

Updated: August 3, 2007, 10:30 PM ET
Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP)-- Kwame Harris has held off several challenges and deflected a lot of criticism in his five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, so the latest threat to his job doesn't faze the veteran offensive tackle.

Harris is enjoying a strong first week of training camp, continuing to elevate his game as San Francisco's starting right tackle, a position at which he has started 32 consecutive games.

But when he looks over his shoulder, Harris sees rookie Joe Staley, the first-round draft pick many believe was brought in this year to take his place in the lineup.

Entering the final season of the five-year contract he signed as the team's first-round draft pick in 2003, his only focus is the season ahead.

"When somebody's chasing you, it makes you run faster, right?" Harris said Friday. "I think it's always been beneficial to me to always have somebody on my coattails."

A subject of trade rumors during the offseason, Harris knows he will need to get better to keep his job.

A good run blocker, Harris has been inconsistent in pass protection. Harris allowed 9 sacks in 2005, when he also committed 15 penalties including seven false starts, according to STATS, Inc. Last year, he allowed 8 sacks and had four holding penalties and one false start.

Because of that inconsistency, Harris has endured criticism from fans and media much of his career.

Now along comes Staley, whom the 49ers traded up into the first round to get in April.

"I know he's here to play the position. I know why he's been brought in here," Harris said. But in terms of being fearful for my job or anything like that? No, it's like I just can go out there and bust my (butt) every day and do what I have to do."

Staley has made solid progress since he joined the 49ers. But he has not taken any snaps in place of Harris with the first-team offense in team drills, as many expected he would by now.

"I've become more confident in my abilities and what I can do at the NFL level," Staley said. I know my responsibilities and what I'm supposed to be doing. Now I'm just trying to understand the offense as a whole. By the end of this training camp, I know I'll have a firm grasp on it."

Coach Mike Nolan says he has been impressed by the rookie, but he remains noncommittal in handicapping the battle at right tackle.

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EXTRA POINTS: The 49ers will conduct an intra-squad scrimmage Saturday afternoon to culminate the first week of training camp. Nolan said the scrimmage will consist of between 60 and 70 plays. RB Michael Robinson returned to practice after missing most of the past three days due to a bout with dehydration, and he participated in team drills during the afternoon session. Starting WR Arnaz Battle also returned to team drills in the afternoon after missing the past two days with a sore knee. DT Aubrayo Franklin returned to practice after a MRI exam on his elbow did not reveal any structural damage.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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