If the season started today, Chris-Lewis Harris, the 27-year old undrafted cornerback from Tennessee-Chattanooga, might very well be playing a significant amount of time for the Bengals and he wouldn't embarrass himself. This is a huge turn around for a guy that was demoted to the practice squad early in December last season in favor of Troy Hill.
With injuries to key players at cornerback like 2016 first-round pick William Jackson III, 2014 first round draft pick Darqueze Dennard and even Adam Jones' calf strain, Lewis-Harris has continued to build on his contributions from the 2015 season, starting alongside Dre Kirkpatrick on Sunday against the Jaguars. That won't probably happen in two weeks because Jones will be good to go and the hope is that Dennard will too, but the Bengals are in a position where they have reliable depth because they continue to trust the guys who they know and who fit the system, like Lewis-Harris.
Sometimes that philosophy has worked against them, like in Margus Hunt's case, but the 5'10" cornerback is the proof that continuity works for this franchise and has worked in the last five years. Despite the loss of multiple players, they can feel comfortable with somebody like Lewis-Harris who knows the system and can play a handful of roles. Other teams don't usually show much patience with undrafted players or late-round picks, but the Bengals have assembled a pool of players -- taking advantage of the practice squad -- that gives them plenty of choices to plug in the holes injuries create through the season. One good example of this is Cedric Peerman, a special teams ace for Cincinnati who was cut by the Baltimore Ravens just a few months after being drafted in the sixth round back in 2009. Unfortunately, Peerman is now also injured and his 2016 season is in jeopardy.
Don't get me wrong, Lewis-Harris is not the missing the piece that will give the team their first playoff win in years, but having him, or a guy like DeShawn Williams, on the roster helps to give the Bengals the stability that many other franchises seek. These type of players might not be ready to contribute on a regular basis on day one, but they stay around, learn the system, form relationships with the rest of the locker room and when called upon, they are better prepared than most teams would hope for from their backup players.
This doesn't always work but when a team trusts a player and takes the time to develop him, it brings familiarity and knowledge and that is something the current Bengals regime appreciates. It's how Brandon Tate stuck in Cincinnati for so long; he's a familiar face who can be very valuable at times, but, isn't the best player on the field.
For every Lewis-Harris, Rex Burkhead or Trey Hopkins - despite his very bad performance against the Jaguars - there are many Orson Charles, Sean Porter or Dontay Moch type players. But continuity is one of the often forgotten traits in team sports and successful franchises like the Green Bay Packers and the Cincinnati Bengals have proven it is key.
Hopefully in a couple of seasons we can say the same about Williams, Hopkins, C.J. Uzomah or Marquis Flowers, but right now, Cincinnati has reliable backups who know the system and are ready to contribute because of the team's philosophy of sticking with their guys.