DuJuan Harris’ lightning quick ascent up the Green Bay Packers’ depth chart last season makes it easy to forget one fundamental fact about the 5-foot-7, 203-pound running back.
He never actually went to camp with the team.
Sure, Harris had a little more than a month on the practice squad to acclimate himself to the way the Packers do things, but there still were sizable gaps in his feel for the offense when he was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 1.
Both the Packers and Harris have looked to change that this offseason, but it’s been stymied somewhat by his inability to get on the field due to a knee injury and surgery to remove a cyst compressed against his lung that forced him out of most of the offseason program.
Since returning on Monday, however, the lines are beginning to connect. The team is bringing him back slowly – his status for Saturday’s preseason game in St. Louis remains uncertain – but the next two weeks will set the tone for the first-year running back.
“He really never got a full installation of our system,” Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “At that point when we brought him up last year, we were game-planning, so maybe 50 percent of the stuff that went in during camp we weren’t running it at that time of the year against those defenses. It’s great for him to just be around, soak it all in. The mental reps are critical but these next two weeks are critical for him to go out and get the work in before the season starts.”
Anointed the starting running back earlier this week by Packers coach Mike McCarthy, Harris continued to work primarily in individual drills, but actually took some 11-on-11 snaps for the first time on Wednesday.
The same went for his biggest challenger, Eddie Lacy, who was making a strong push for playing time before a hamstring injury shut him down for a week.
McCarthy said he hasn’t made a decision on if Lacy or Harris will play with that determination probably coming from Thursday’s practice in helmets prior to Saturday’s game against the Rams.
“(Thursday), we’ll see how that goes. We’re going to practice in helmets,” McCarthy said. “(It) will be more of an instruction day. We’ve had two long padded practices the last two days. So I feel like we got a lot of work done, a lot of quality video to get us in game preparation for the Rams. So we’ll see how they feel (Thursday) morning.”