GREEN BAY – Now DuJuan Harris will be able to show he's more than just the Green Bay Packers’ starting running back in name only.
After missing virtually all of the offseason and the first 2 1/2 weeks of training camp because of a knee injury – one he would only describe as a “tweak” on Monday – Harris passed his physical and was activated from the physically unable to perform list, allowing him to take part in his first practice on Monday.
Despite the offseason addition of second-round pick Eddie Lacy and fourth-round pick Johnathan Franklin and solid starts to camp for veterans James Starks and Alex Green, coach Mike McCarthy still had Harris atop his running back depth chart – even before he practiced.
“If he believes in (me), I believe in myself also,” Harris said. “I’m not going to let him down.”
McCarthy said Harris’ status was based on what he did after taking over as the starter late last season. After being signed to the practice squad Oct. 24 and promoted to the 53-man roster on Dec. 1, the 5-foot-8, 203-pound Harris carried 34 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season, then added 28 carries for 100 yards and two more TDs in the playoffs. He also caught two passes for 17 yards in the regular season and seven passes for 64 yards in the playoffs.
“DuJuan Harris, the way we finished the season I would classify him as a starter on our football team,” McCarthy said during his post-practice press briefing. “That doesn’t mean he goes out and plays every down. (But) I have that confidence in him. It took us awhile to get him ready last year, but I thought he finished the season very strong.”
The Packers were only in helmets and shorts Monday, so Harris took part in some team periods. But when they are in pads on Tuesday, McCarthy said Harris will likely be limited to individual drills and will be held out of 11-on-11 sessions.
“I’m very confident that sometime next week he’ll be where he needs to be,” McCarthy said.
That means Harris is unlikely to play Saturday night at St. Louis, although he has other ideas.
“Definitely,” Harris replied when asked if he will play against the Rams. “Definitely.”
Given what Harris accomplished last season, it’s hard to bet against him.
Harris had been out of football and working at a Jacksonville car dealership when the Packers called and added him to the practice squad. So while the time he missed during the offseason and early in camp certainly didn’t help him, it apparently hasn’t hurt him in the eyes of his coaches. McCarthy said at the annual NFL Meetings that Harris would be given every chance to start, although that was before Lacy and Franklin were drafted.
Lacy missed his third straight practice and did not dress for the Packers’ preseason-opening 17-0 loss to Arizona on Friday night, and McCarthy did not update Lacy’s status Monday. Lacy was at practice Monday and stood and watched throughout, so the injury apparently isn’t serious.
That’s how Harris had spent the first 11 practices of camp. Harris wouldn’t say what the injury was or when it happened, but he admitted he was getting anxious to return to action.
“I love my teammates. I’ve been missing them a lot since I’ve been gone, feeling a little lonely, now I’m glad to be back home,” Harris said. “When you’re away from something for so long, you kind of value it a more, so I’ve kind of learned that a little bit more.
“I was ready to get back, but I had to take my time. I didn’t want to come back too soon.”
Depending on how long Lacy is out, he may have returned at just the right time. The Packers running backs carried 26 times for 70 yards (a 2.7-yard average) against Arizona, with Starks (12 carries, 38 yards, 3.2-yard average) the most productive of the bunch. Green had seven carries for 16 yards and Franklin ran six times for 14 yards (each for a 2.3-yard average).
For his part, Harris said he isn’t bothered by the increased competition and that he’s focusing on himself first.
“Really, competition is the name of the game,” Harris said. As for being named the starter, Harris replied, “I haven’t really thought about it much. That’s a great honor to help lead this team but I’m just back and I’ve got to kind of get back into the groove of things.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.