St. Louis Rams cornerback Al Harris, center, looks back as he walks off the field with fellow free agents during NFL football training camp Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, at the Rams' training facility in St. Louis. Rams free agents suited up for practice but left before the start. / Jeff Roberson/AP
Some in the Green Bay Packers’ receiving corps see a different Al Harris than the one who departed Green Bay last November after the Packers deemed him unfit to return from his 2009 knee injury.
Guys like Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson have spent time this week watching Harris on tape because he’s expected to start against them for the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“It’s good to see him back out there,” Nelson said. “I know when he left here, he wasn’t back yet. He wasn’t himself. It’s good to see him out there playing. I don’t want to say it will be fun going against him because of the type of competitor he is and the way he plays. But it’s good to see him back.”
The Packers released Harris, who played for the Packers from 2003 to 2009, on Nov. 8 after he spent the first three months of last season on the physically unable to perform list. He practiced for three weeks in midseason and felt he was ready to be activated, but General Manager Ted Thompson released him in a move that irked Harris. Harris then signed with Miami but lasted only three games before a hamstring injury ended his season.
Another former Packers player, linebacker Brady Poppinga, is a starter for the Rams. He signed with St. Louis after the Packers cut him in late July. He played for the Packers from 2005 to 2010.
“I’ll tell you what, I love those two guys,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.
Spagnuolo was Harris’ defensive backs coach when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles early in his career. Harris signed with the Rams on July 31 and because they have been decimated by injuries at cornerback, he is expected to start Sunday.
“We’re going to see how it works out during practice, but he’s the guy that’s been here,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s the guy that’s had the reps. He’s the guy that’s been in the system. Some of the guys, I mean you guys already know this, it’s pretty well documented we’ve had seven corners since the opening of training camp that we’ve lost.”
At age 36 and coming off a serious knee injury, Harris probably can’t run like he used to. However, speed was never a big part of his game.
“He’s out there doing what he does best, trying to jam guys at the line,” Jennings said. “He’s never really been a burner and obviously going through an injury like that. But the way he looks on film, he looks back to his old self. But I don’t know how much you can say he’s back to his old self until you line up and actually go against him.”
Harris wouldn’t play the revenge card when asked about this game by reporters in St. Louis.
“I spent eight years there,” Harris said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Had a great time (and played) a lot of snaps. But today is today, and we’ve got to prepare like that. … It’s a football game. That’s how you’ve got to treat it. That’s how I’ll approach it. And whatever (the Rams) need me to do to contribute, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Poppinga, who was released July 29 in part because of he was coming off a major knee injury and in part because he was due to make $2.3 million, has been playing in the Rams’ base defense but goes out when they go to nickel on obvious passing downs.
“The reality is, my time expired (in Green Bay),” Poppinga said, according to the Post-Dispatch. “And it had nothing to do with any hard feelings between myself and them. I can’t speak for them, but with me I feel very happy with where I’m at, very grateful to be where I’m at. There are relationships that I’ve developed over time, but you know what? Those are put aside as I go out and I do what I’m asked to do with this team to help this team be successful.”
Another former Packers player, Josh Gordy, could be the nickel or dime cornerback for the Rams. The Packers cut Gordy at the end of the training camp. Also, running back Quinn Porter, who was with the Packers during the 2010 preseason, is on the Rams as a special teams cover man and backup kickoff returner.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.