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Dwayne Harris is the Giants' returner, and doing it with a chip on his shoulder

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Dwayne Harris didn't return a kick or punt this preseason. That's not likely going to stop him from the being the New York Giants’ primary returner on Sunday night when they open their season at AT&T Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys.

"He'll be involved," coach Ben McAdoo confirmed Wednesday. "He'll be in the mix, yes."

The Giants have Harris listed as their kick and punt returner on the team's unofficial Week 1 depth chart. Sterling Shepard is the backup kickoff returner and Odell Beckham Jr., struggling with an ankle injury, is the backup punt returner, with Shepard next in line.

Harris' primary role is as a special-teams ace -- as a returner and gunner -- and is looking to have a bounce-back season. He averaged 5.9 yards per punt return and 24.2 yards per kickoff return last season. That's well below his career averages in both areas.

It has the former Cowboy itching to show it was a blip on the radar, even after making the Pro Bowl mostly for his contributions as a gunner on punts, and perhaps too as a career achievement honor.

"For me, I definitely have a little chip on my shoulder," Harris said. "I had a down year as a returner, but I had a lot of injuries a lot of people didn't know about. I was banged up from start to finish."

The most debilitating was a back injury suffered Week 7 against the Los Angeles Rams. That lingered throughout the season. There were weeks where Harris could be seen at his locker unable to bend and move like a flag-football standout, never mind a 20-something professional athlete.

The results showed. He was trying to make plays his body couldn't cash.

Given the limitations, Harris' aggressive mindset didn't help. In fact, it often backfired and forced the Giants' coaches at times to take away some of his return responsibilities.

With his body dinged and moving perhaps a step slower, those returns -- whether from the 5-yard line on punts or deep in the end zone on kicks -- didn't produce positive results. It's still not going to make Harris gun-shy this season.

After having his contract restructured this offseason, he insists on being the same player he's always been.

"I can't change as a returner. I do what works for me," Harris said. "Now I just have to get all my guys who block for me on the same page. I'm aggressive. They know I'm going to return it and I don't fair catch. So I get them on the same page, get a body on a body and I'll take care of the rest."

Harris' first season with the Giants after signing as a free agent was an overwhelming success. He returned a kick and punt for a touchdown. He averaged 10 yards per punt return and 28.2 yards per kickoff. That 2015 season seemed more fitting for a Pro Bowl selection than last year did.

But the Giants still have confidence in Harris' ability. His roster spot never seemed in danger despite his missing part of the summer with an upper-body injury. McAdoo didn't even need to see Harris in any preseason games to know they can still trust him as a returner. He saw enough in practice.

"I think, quite simply, his catch mechanics are better," McAdoo said. "They are better this year. It was more of an emphasis for him, and he is back on track."

If that happens it would be a major boost for the Giants, who won 11 games last season without many big plays from its special-teams unit. They were 19th last year in expected points added by special teams, after finishing fifth the previous season.

If Harris can return to form, the Giants' special teams can again be a valuable weapon.