Al Harris’ chances of playing in the regular-season opener look slim.
The Green Bay Packers’ cornerback was hoping to come off the physically unable to perform list this week, which would have given him three weeks of practice on his reconstructed left knee to get ready for the regular-season opener at Philadelphia on Sept. 12.
However, Harris was unable to pass his physical Monday, so now he won’t be back until next week at the earliest. Though he’d still have two weeks until the start of the regular season if he returns then, that probably isn’t enough time to get his knee and football skills ready for a regular-season game after major surgery and his long layoff from game action.
It’s also not a given Harris will pass his physical next week.
“All of the reports are always positive when we talk to medical staff,” coach Mike McCarthy said of Harris on Tuesday, “but there is a protocol when you come off a major type injury that Al has gone through. He is doing everything he can, I can promise you that, but still today he is not ready to pass the physical.”
Considering the severity of his injury as well as his age (35), Harris still will be doing well if he gets off PUP by the start of the regular season. He is a week shy of the nine-month mark since undergoing surgery after tearing his anterior-cruciate, lateral-collateral and fibular-collateral ligaments, along with the IT band and lateral hamstring.
By comparison, linebacker Nick Barnett had surgery to repair his ACL on Nov. 20, 2008 — Harris had his surgery Nov. 30 of last year — and opened training camp in 2009 on PUP. Barnett came off PUP in the third week of camp (Aug. 17 of ’09), did only individual drills that first week, progressed to team drills the following week but didn’t play in a preseason game until his third week back, the finale at Tennessee.
Tramon Williams, who’s starting at cornerback in Harris’ place, missed almost the entire offseason of practices this year because he didn’t have a contract, and said it took him a while to get in game shape even though he’d been working out hard on his own. And Williams wasn’t coming off an injury, let alone a major one.
“It probably took a couple weeks to get to moving how I usually move,” Williams said. “Now my feet are back under me, so I think it will take a couple weeks to get (Harris’) footwork where he wants it, and his timing and football conditioning.”
If Harris isn’t activated from PUP next week, there’s at least a chance he’ll remain on PUP to start the regular season, which would open a spot on the 53-man roster but mean he’d have to miss the first six regular-season games and be unable to practice during that time. But if the Packers think he’ll be ready to practice in the first couple of weeks of the season, they’d likely carry him on their 53 to start the season.
With Harris more likely than not to miss the opener, either Brandon Underwood or Pat Lee probably will be their No. 3 cornerback in their nickel defense to start the season. Underwood has been working ahead of Lee since the start of training camp, but Lee has stayed close enough that he still has a chance to win the job in the final two weeks of the preseason.
“I really didn’t know when Al would be back or when he’s going to be back,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Our whole approach has got to be focused on the guys you have out here, trying to get them ready to play, which is what we’ve been trying to do with Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee and Sam Shields.”