Harris can only watch Packers' RB competition
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--From the sideline in a knit hat, DuJuan Harris—all of 5 feet 7 inches, 203 pounds—is powerless. He can only grit his teeth as other running backs slash and dash and hint that the Green Bay Packers coaching staff has difficult decisions to make.
Harris was practically back to those days on the practice squad, lost in the NFL wilderness.
Or so it seems. Harris, nursing an offseason knee injury, despises the notion that he’s hitting the reset button.
“I just have it on pause right now,” Harris said. “It’s on pause and I’m going to push play again soon.”
“Very soon,” Harris repeats. Whenever he does return, it’s on at running back. Harris joins a logjam backfield that includes rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin and two holdovers—James Starks and Alex Green—who refuse to fade into oblivion. A roster spot, again, is at stake for Harris.
The way Harris sees it, this is a ruthless game that owes him nothing. Ignored through 254 picks in the 2011 NFL draft and discarded by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers, Harris approaches the game with a snarl.
Again, he’s fighting for his football life. To differentiate himself, he’s not changing a thing.
“The game hasn’t changed—just new faces,” said Harris, who rushed for 257 yards and four touchdowns in six games last year. “Pretty much just have to go out there and play football.”
To understand Harris’ mind-set, rewind to March, to the Prime Quarter Steak House in Madison. Between community appearances, Harris had dinner with ex-Badger Montee Ball and ex-Packer Ahman Green. Over dinner—unsolicited, unprompted—the undrafted Harris was blunt with Ball.
In so many words, Harris told Ball that, OK, maybe he did shatter records in college. But in the pros, he hadn’t accomplished anything. Zilch. In the pros, nothing was given. And he said this to someone who easily could have been a future teammate.
Those at the dinner say Ball was taken aback, a bit stunned. Through the pre-draft process, no one spoke to him like that.
“In this league, it doesn’t matter where you went, what you did before that,” Harris recalled telling Ball. “Guys don’t really care. You have to go out and work for it. You can’t be spoon-fed. I told him, ‘You just have to go out and work for it.’ … The game’s going to treat everybody the same.”
“He just said he appreciated it,” Harris said, “and that nobody broke it down to him like that.”
Harris might as well have been talking to Lacy and Franklin, the backs the Packers did draft.
This is the attitude Harris always took. For him, opportunities were always fleeting.
At Troy, Harris was in a continuous tug of war for touches. He actually carried the ball more as a sophomore (210) than he did as a junior (151) and senior (97). Competing with two, three, four other backs is no novel concept to Harris. Troy’s running backs coach, Jeff Beckles, says Harris “wouldn’t want it any other way,” that he performs better with someone breathing down his neck.
“He’s in a better position when he’s not stagnant,” Beckles said. “Someone’s always pushing him. He may need that extra push. Bringing in people, all that does is make him go harder. He doesn’t need to be named the feature back and have the offense predicated around him.
“And if they bring in somebody to take his job, he’s going to show he is the man for the job. Whoever you bring in, in his mind will be No. 2 compared to him.”
Now, down to brass tacks. The healthy, violent Starks of 2010 resurfaced the first three practices. On two good knees, Green planted and cut as he never did last season. Franklin might be the third-down back the Packers have lacked. Lacy? He is a second-round pick.
Harris will be forced to fight. Again. Harris insists this is a minor knee injury and believes he’ll be back soon. Being a spectator the first day in pads clearly stung. He says he’s at “100%,” and almost back to “110%.”
Across the street, Harris needs to step up into his locker to reach for something in a compartment. Yes, he’s short. It’s one reason he’s been so overlooked. Pittsburgh didn’t want him. Neither did lowly Jacksonville. As Harris deadpanned, “Nobody wanted me, really.”
With so many other backs in Green Bay, the pressure’s on again. Harris could realistically start, realistically be let go. It’s on him. More than any of the five, he understands just how disposable the NFL running back truly is.
But he’s not resetting anything. After finishing 2012 as the starter, Harris is hoping to be “The Guy” again in 2013.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “As of right now, I’m just focusing on getting back on the field and helping out this team. I’ve been through it so I’m built for it.”