During the offseason, as coach Mike Zimmer and his assistants studied video from past games, a decision was made to move Brandon Fusco, who had played right guard for the Vikings for four seasons, to left guard.

The thought was that the Slippery Rock product could provide a good combination of protection for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater along with left tackle Matt Kalil, who had played injured most of the 2014 season.

That move proved to be a smart one as Mike Harris has not only replaced Fusco at right guard, but the fourth-year UCLA product has played quite well there.

"I appreciate that coach has a lot of faith and confidence in me that I'll go out there and get the job done," Harris said. "He likes that I've improved since training camp, and I just have to continue to get better and stay ready for our opponents."

Harris, who began his NFL career as an undrafted free agent with the Chargers in 2012, hasn't given up any sacks this season and only a couple of QB hurries, and the offensive line as a whole has performed much better than expected, especially considering the injuries to regular starting center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt.

Harris' goal is to correct any bad plays by getting better with his technique.

"I just have to continue to keep Teddy clean, and as a group on the O-line we have to continue to get better," he said.

Harris also has added responsibility playing next to rookie T.J. Clemmings, a fourth-round draft pick who lacks the experience of Loadholt.

"It's just more responsibility," said Harris about playing next to a rookie. "I know he's a young guy and doesn't see the big picture sometimes on the defense, so I just take it as a responsibility as a veteran to help him out and make sure we're on the same level."

New position

On another subject, Harris said that before this season he played primarily at tackle.

"I'm enjoying guard, especially in the run game. I'm able to go around and knock guys off the ball. It is just fun to be with a group of guys that are physical and love to get after people. I just have to continue to get better at my job," he said. "I played tackle my whole career since high school, but guard is the positions the team wants me to play, so I'm enjoying it.

"I just have to go in there and play well. Tackle, you're more on an island vs. defensive ends, you're going up against a lot of speed rushers. Guard, you're inside playing against bigger, heavier players. You have to be real physical with them and pick up blitzes and what the team is trying to do."

Harris was asked who has helped him the most with the transition.

"I would like to say Joe Berger, him replacing Sully has stepped in and done well," Harris said. "Every day we watch film together, study our opponent. He's a guy I look up to when I need to ask questions on the line. He is very helpful."

Does Harris prefer blocking for the run or the pass?

"Any O-lineman would say run. I'm a big guy [6-5, 338 pounds] and I'm able to go around and just knock guys off the ball. But pass blocking is fun too when you can see Teddy make long balls down the field because it makes the drives shorter, and it's less energy you have to spend. I kind of like them both the same."

How about blocking for Adrian Peterson?

"It's fun. You know, last Sunday just seeing him run past me, seeing him make guys miss, the defenders, it's exciting to see a guy like him running off of my blocks," Harris said. "I like it. Keep him my way and we'll try to get a lot of yards rushing each week."

Harris and his fellow linemen are fortunate to have Jeff Davidson as their offensive line coach, as he has spent 21 years in the NFL, including being with the Patriots from 1997 to 2004 when he helped them win three Super Bowls.

No concerns

A lot of Twins fans have worried about the slow start Byron Buxton has had to his major league career, but one person who hasn't is hitting coach Tom Brunansky.

It sure looks like Buxton's hitting game might be coming around as he has gone 4-for-8 with two home runs, four RBI and three runs scored in his past two starts.

"Buxton is fine," Brunansky said. "Buxton, the thing about Buck is he's an unbelievable athlete. Once you come up here, I know the game gets fast for him, but once he slows down, that athleticism is going to take over and then you'll see a better flow.

"Defensively you can go out there and let his athleticism work. It's getting in that batter's box and things speed up, and the more he gets exposed to that the better he will be."

As for fellow rookie Miguel Sano, Brunansky said Sano's at-bats will only get more difficult as pitchers see him more often, but he says he has never seen a young player get the respect Sano has.

"I have yet to see a guy come up as a young hitter who has been pitched like he has been pitched," Brunansky said. "He is being pitched by these clubs like he's a 15-year guy that has driven in 100 runs every year. It's amazing the way they go and look at him and try to beat him. The strikeouts are going to whittle their way down. Will he be in 50-60-70 strikeout zone? I don't think we'll see that. He'll probably be over that century mark but with the production he'll carry with that, I think it's a pretty good deal."


• Jim Phillips, the athletic director at Northwestern for the past seven years, hired Jerry Kill as Northern Illinois coach when Phillips was the athletic director there in 2007.

• The Gophers saw four defensive backs leave the game in the first half against Ohio because of injury. Two of them this week will be back in Antonio Johnson and Jalen Myrick, while Damarius Travis will not play and it appears that neither will Briean Boddy-Calhoun.

• Despite being ranked No. 16, Northwestern is only a four-point favorite against the Gophers at home Saturday.

• To beat Northwestern on Saturday it would help if Wildcats freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson performed like he did against Ball State in the first half last weekend, when he turned the ball over three times on two interceptions and a fumble. In the second half, he completed three touchdown passes. Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall was quoted as saying the Gophers are going to "lick their chops" when they face Thorson, but added, "I think he is up for the challenge."

• Northwestern senior defensive tackle Deonte Gibson said the Wildcats' first four games were just preparation for the Big Ten. "Conference play has a little bit more intensity to it because these games really do count towards us achieving all of our goal as far as winning the Big Ten championship."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com