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Veteran cornerback Harris taking his talents to South Beach

DAVIE, Fla. -- Al Harris' 36th birthday looms -- not usually an occasion for an NFL cornerback to celebrate.

He's trying to come back from major knee surgery, and he began this week out of work.

Nonetheless, the former Pro Bowler believes he can still play, and he'll try to prove it in Miami. He joined practice Wednesday after signing with the Dolphins, who released former first-round pick Jason Allen.

"Wherever I can help, I'm here to help," Harris said. "I just want to play -- an extra coach on the field, or whatever they need me to do."

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Harris hasn't played since suffering a major left knee injury last November. He started 102 games from 2003 to 2009 for the Green Bay Packers, who released him Monday.

Miami coach Tony Sparano envisions Harris as a backup and a mentor for starting cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, both second-year pros.

"This guy can help us in a lot of ways: what he does on the field, and what he does, certainly, in the classroom and off the field," Sparano said. "He's a quality, quality individual, never mind the kind of player he's been in this league."

A native of nearby Pompano Beach, Harris said other teams expressed an interest in signing him. Choosing Miami was an easy decision.

"I've always wanted to play for the Dolphins," Harris said. "I grew up watching the Dolphins. I'm ecstatic they wanted me. It was a no-brainer."

Allen, the 16th overall pick in 2006, started 19 games in his seasons and struggled to shake the label of draft bust. He won a starting job in training camp this season and is tied for ninth in the league with three interceptions, but he was badly beaten frequently and was replaced in the lineup last week by Smith.

Harris, who turns 36 next month, began this season on the Packers' physically-unable-to-perform list and returned to practice Oct. 19. The team said he was released not because of doubts about his health, but because of depth in the secondary. In Harris' absence, Tramon Williams emerged as a potential Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback.

Harris made the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2008. The 13-year veteran has 21 interceptions.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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