PHOENIX — After missing out on free-agent running back Steven Jackson, the Packers plan to give young DuJuan Harris a shot at the starting job this season.
Though undersized for an every-down back, the 5-foot-8 and 203-pound Harris was their most productive ball carrier last season, averaging 4.6 yards per carry in limited regular-season work late last year.
“Oh, he’s going to play for us next season,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said today during the NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL annual meetings. “That’s his responsibility if wants to be the starter.”
Harris was signed off the street to the practice squad on Oct. 24 and promoted to the active roster on Dec. 1.
“I wish we would have had DuJuan earlier,” McCarthy said. “He was a young man that we were just getting ready to try to put in the game. Everybody’s like ‘just put him in there.’ Well, hell, you put him in there, there aren’t too many runs in our offense where we can’t go to a pass, and now he’s protecting for Aaron Rodgers. That’s why there’s a lot of stress schematically and responsibility wise on our running backs, and that’s not going to change because of our quarterback. Once he got ready, I felt great about the way DuJuan finished the season. Looking forward to having him for an offseason and look for good things for him.”
After using five different backs — Harris, Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, Alex Green and James Starks — last season, McCarthy said he would like to settle on a 1-2 combination this season.
McCarthy also suggested there would be an overhaul to the running game scheme, although he has said that in past offseasons and the results have been negligible.
“There’s schematic changes,” McCarthy said. “We’re in the process of finalizing our running game. We spent a bunch of time up until this point going back through some things. We’ve made some changes I feel very good about. But the other thing too is our running backs got to get better. It’s as simple as that, and our running blocking unit needs to improve, too.”