KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- To become a more reliable pass receiver, Demetrius Harris practices catching throws from Kansas City Chiefs tight ends coach Tom Melvin in the dark, the only illumination being the occasional flash from the strobe goggles he’s wearing.
"There are different levels," Harris said. “Level 8 is the hardest. Level 8 is a slow blink, really hard to see. I’m going up every week. I’m on Level 6. I really have to track the ball at Level 6.
“It takes real focus. That helps me dial in. You really have to when you use those glasses."
The unconventional work appears to be helping. Harris dropped a few passes at training camp but has been more reliable this year than before.
Two passes he didn’t drop were the touchdown catches he made last week in the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, one in traffic.
Harris has made some other difficult catches for the Chiefs. He went up high in a 2015 game against the Oakland Raiders to make a tough grab in the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.
The Chiefs haven’t been afraid to go Harris’ way with some clutch throws. He caught the 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter that sent last year’s game against the Denver Broncos into overtime. He caught what would have been the tying 2-point conversion in last year’s playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the play was called back because of a penalty.
But Harris’ career receiving numbers -- 27 catches in 40 games -- could be much better if he had been a more reliable receiver. Last season he dropped 16.7 percent of the catchable balls that went his way, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
That was by far a higher rate than any other Chiefs receiver with more than 10 catches. Chris Conley was next highest at 4.5 percent.
This explains the need for his work with the strobe goggles.
"He’s had a good camp," coach Andy Reid said. “He’s worked a ton on catching the football in tight areas. I’m looking forward to how he plays this season."
Harris, who played basketball but not football in college, has made slow but steady progress since joining the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He was on the practice squad as a rookie, caught three passes in 2014, seven the next season and 17 in 2016.
Perhaps he’s on the verge of becoming a consistent threat for the Chiefs.
“I feel like a true football player now, but I’ve still got some basketball in me," Harris said. “I still tend to do basketball things. There’s still room for improvement. I can get better. But I feel I’ve progressed every year. My confidence level is high, and I’ve got to keep it that way.
“I’m better at catching the ball now. I’ve just got to keep working at it. I’ve got to be more consistent."