Harris anxious to compete for starting role

Jul. 26, 2013

The reaction carried no surprise or disappointment.

In fact, as the Green Bay Packers selected both Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin during April’s NFL Draft, DuJuan Harris nodded with quiet approval.

“We’ll take all the help we can get,” Harris said.

Nobody understands how much depth factors into a team’s success more than the 5-foot-8, 203-pound scrapper, who went from unemployed NFL running back to legitimate difference-maker in a span of three months with the Packers.

As Cedric Benson, James Starks and Alex Green all succumbed to injury, Harris saw his role on offense swell over the team’s final six games (including postseason) after being promoted from the practice squad on Dec. 1.

Now, the table is turned. Five other running backs in camp with the Packers are healthy while Harris watches on, sidelined for at least another week with a knee injury – almost two months after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst compressed against his lung.

Harris, who was placed on the physically unable to perform list on Thursday, is adamant he’s “100 percent” and playing the role of bystander merely as a precaution.

Whenever he does return, Harris still sees himself in the same role he finished last season – as the team’s starting running back – but is fully prepared to work to retain those honors.

“Yeah, I do, but I’m taking it one day at a time,” Harris said. “Right now, I’m trying to make the team. Then after that, focus on me being the starter. I’m definitely going to get out there. The game is all about competition ,so that’s definitely what it’s going to be and I’m ready for all of it.”

After being cut by Pittsburgh at the end of training camp, Harris spent nearly two months out of football before signing to the Packer’s practice squad on Oct. 24.

By the time the backfield game of musical chairs ended, the 24-year-old Harris found himself in the driver's seat, a mixture of controlled rage and decisiveness in his cuts catapulting him into being the team’s featured back.

His final statistical line – 62 carries for 257 rushing yards and four touchdowns in six games (including postseason) – was the closest semblance the Packers had to a consistent running attack all season.

For all the unexpected adulation, Harris realizes he’ll have to replicate it all to stay at the top of the depth chart following the addition of Lacy and Franklin and return of Starks and Green.

The successes? Those are history. What remains on the forefront of Harris' mind is January’s 45-31 loss to San Francisco that ended his breakthrough campaign.

“I feel like things happened at the right time. There wasn’t a better time that it could’ve happened,” Harris said. “I had a lot of faith and knew I’d be back on the field. I feel like God gave me too much talent to just sit there and waste it, so it wasn’t too crazy. I don’t really think about it. The only thing I can think about is the fact we did lose to San Francisco and getting kicked out of the playoffs. That’s the only thing that’s bothered me.”
-whodkiew@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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