San Francisco 49ers' Specialist Al Harris: Dr. Pass Rush

Matt MCorrespondent IMay 9, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 28:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints is hit as he throws a pass by linebacker Parys Haralson #98 of the San Francisco 49ers during a game at Monster Park October 28, 2007 in San Francisco, California. New Orleans won 31-10.  (Photo by Greg Trott/Getty Images)

When the San Francisco 49ers named Greg Manusky their new defensive coordinator in the 2007 offseason, they made a league-wide statement. 

Prior to joining the 49ers, Manusky served as the linebackers coach of the Washington Redskins in 2001 and the San Diego Chargers from 2002 to 2006.

Being a former NFL linebacker himself from 1988 until 1999, many analysts attributed the break out performances of Charger linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips to Manusky’s tutelage. 

By entrusting the former Charger coach with the prestigious honor and burdensome duty of Defensive Coordinator, the 49ers brass proved to place tremendous value on the outside linebacker position. 

With promising yet raw outside linebacker talents like Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson, the 49ers brought aboard a relatively inexperienced yet effective positional coach over more seasoned former defensive coordinators. This was a subtle, yet distinct effort to improve the 49ers pass rush development.

This offseason the 49ers made a similar statement when they announced the addition of Al Harris, former NFL defensive end, as team “Pass Rush Specialist”. 

Every team has a head coach, as well as an offensive, defensive, and special teams coordinator.  Not every team has a “pass rush specialist”.  In fact, not any team has a “pass rush specialist”. Until now that is.

Given that Al Harris has become the first ever team-designated “Pass Rush” specialist in the NFL, his analysis seemed essential in understanding the direction and intent of the 49ers coaching staff.

In the press conference to follow, there were many questions abound for coach Mike Singletary.  Who is this pass specialist? What is a pass specialist?

As the 49er head coach described, “Al Harris’ greatest attribute is as a teacher.”  Although lacking a PHD in his field of craft, Singletary can attest to Harris’ character and experience.  After all, Singletary was a former teammate of Al Harris during his time with the Chicago Bears.

After being selected in the first round (ninth overall) of the 1979 NFL Draft, Al Harris was a standout defensive end in his tenure with the Chicago Bears.  He played with the Bears from 1979 until 1984, only to hold out during the memorable 1985 season due to contractual disputes. 

Upon returning to the NFL he remained with Chicago from 1986 to 1988, and later signed with the Eagles where he played from 1989 until his retirement in 1990. 

Over the course of his 11 year NFL career, the “pass rush specialist” amassed 20.5 career sacks.  Although not an overly impressive sum for a certified sack artist, the best NFL coaches of past and present were, more often than not, mediocre players in their playing days. 

With his midsection bulge beneath his raggedy hoody, New England Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick looks better suited to throw a slumber party than an NFL pass.  That never stopped him from becoming a legendary mentor to future hall of fame quarterback Tom Brady, and the mastermind behind the New England Patriot dynasty.

Having been a solid performer throughout his NFL career Harris possesses the playing experience to relate to his pass rushing protégés.  This experience will only benefit the raw 49er outside linebacker prospects. 

Playing under coaching legends Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan during his NFL career, Al Harris is well accustomed to the practices of effective coaching.  With such emblematic former mentors, look for this rookie coach to have an immediate impact in pass rush development.

It’s only a matter of time before the 49ers hire their “consistency” or better yet “winning” specialist.

This sports writing “49er specialist” is signing out.


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