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Shelby Harris turned optimism into a game-saving play

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Maybe Shelby Harris has just built up callouses for the whole thing.

But minutes after he blocked a Los Angeles Chargers field goal attempt with one second remaining in the Denver Broncos' 24-21 win Monday, nobody had a bigger smile than Harris.

"This is what you want, I'm happy to be 1-0, happy to help the team win," said Harris -- an optimist who has had his optimism tested plenty in his football career. "And happy to finally be part of a great defense, so whatever I can do is what I want to do."

Broncos coach Vance Joseph has said repeatedly that Harris has "earned his way" to get to this point. For his part, Harris has certainly shown vocational stubbornness after being waived six times in his career -- four times by the Oakland Raiders alone -- before he landed with the Broncos on a "futures" contract this past January.

Harris did have some history with Broncos' defensive coordinator Joe Woods when both were with the Raiders in 2014, but he still faced some long odds at a crowded position in the Broncos' defensive line in training camp.

However, Harris did what guys who have been waived once, twice or even six times have to do: He got noticed. In practices and in the preseason games, when Harris was moved up in the rotation because of injuries elsewhere, he made one play after another.

He led the Broncos with three sacks in the preseason. With Jared Crick (back) and Zach Kerr (knee) out of the lineup on Monday night, Harris started at defensive end. He played 33 snaps in all as well as four on special teams, including the blocked kick.

"Shelby has earned his way from the first day of OTAs to training camp," Joseph said. "Through the preseason games, he's earned his way. It's the perfect example of a guy coming into camp and having an outside chance of making the football team, but he really earned his way.”

Asked, as he was being congratulated by several teammates, if in July he could have envisioned making the roster let alone a play that decided the Broncos' season opener, Harris paused for a moment and flashed another smile.

"Yeah, I did, can I say that? I can say that, right?" Harris said. "But I think that way, you have to believe and I pride myself going out there to make plays. I feel like every week in the preseason I was showing them why I deserved to be here. But [Monday] was about helping the team win, anything to help the team win."

Things will get crowded again in the defensive front when Crick, who played more snaps than any other Broncos defensive lineman last season, and Kerr return. And Harris knows, as a guy who has bounced between rosters, practice squads and waiting for a call as an unsigned hopeful, the new week starts almost as soon as the game ends.

"That's how I think now," Harris said. "I just want to be here, contribute, do whatever they need me to do. I'm just happy to get three fingers on that ball."