Desmond Harrison, an undrafted rookie from West Georgia who failed a drug test at the scouting combine, has been named by the Cleveland Browns to start in the left tackle spot vacated by retired All-Pro Joe Thomas.
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Harrison will be in the lineup for the Browns’ opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday despite a checkered past.
“When he came here, we were very excited about him,” Browns head coach Hue Jackson said. “There were some things he did in OTAs. You could see it. Then it got to be, how bad did he want to be the left tackle. And he just kept working. It’s a heck of a story, but it doesn’t matter until game day. He’s got to go do it.
“He’s long, he’s athletic. He can run. He’s tough. He’s all the things that you want. He just hasn’t done it yet at this level.”
With Harrison at left tackle, Joel Bitonio moved back to left guard, where he will have primary responsibility for blocking Steelers standout defensive lineman Cam Heyward.
Thomas retired this season after being selected to the Pro Bowl for 10 consecutive seasons and being named first-team All-Pro seven times. He is considered a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Harrison, who always has had immense talent and potential, has not faced top-level competition since 2013, when he played parts of seven games for Texas.
“He looks like a left tackle in this league,” Bitonio said. “He plays the game the right way. He plays hard. If you watch any of his tape in the preseason or in college, he really finishes guys. He likes to play the right way. You know he’s coachable; he’s learning.
“He hasn’t played against some of this competition before, but he’s out there, and he’s fighting, and he’s going against Myles [Garrett] in practice every day, and he’s battling, and he’s doing his best to be the best he can be for the Browns.”
Harrison enrolled at Auburn out of high school, but academic issues sent him to junior college. After two seasons, he enrolled at Texas in 2013, where he wowed coaches with his ability.
“He was so good, we thought we’d only have him for one year and then he’d be drafted high,” former Texas head coach Mack Brown told Cleveland.com.
However, Harrison missed the 2014 season at Texas after he was suspended three times. He left the Longhorns and spent two years away from football before playing last season at West Georgia, where he dominated against Division II competition to earn an invitation to the Senior Bowl, which he did not play in because of a knee injury.
During spring break in 2014, he was shot in the buttocks, which he admitted to teams at the combine. He was suspended by Texas for that incident, for marijuana use and for being in a car while friends robbed a convenience store, according to Cleveland.com.
Harrison said he was “just being immature.”