DuJuan Harris got the unlikely start for the Green Bay Packers in a critical 27-20 victory over the Detroit Lions. Harris getting the start wasn't the only surprise as the former practice squad player scored a touchdown and rushed for 31 yards, including an 11-yard gain on the Packers' first offensive play of the game.
There's no doubt it was a little shocking to see Harris in the backfield to start the game. Even the NBC commentators were confused and mistakenly thought it was Alex Green getting the opening carry.
So who is the mystery man DuJuan Harris?
Harris spent four years at Troy University. During his sophomore and junior seasons, Harris led the team in carries, but really only played the feature back role during his sophomore season. That year he had career highs in carries, yards and touchdowns with 210 carries for 1,077 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Harris mostly played the role of a change-of-pace back, which is the role he will be best suited for in Green Bay. His stats show he can get the job done when called upon. He also has some experience return kicks. With his quickness, it's worth a thought with Randall Cobb hoping to slowly fade out of the role.
It's unclear how well Harris can catch the ball out of the backfield at this level, but his stats show that he is capable of it. He would be a nice threat on screen passes with his speed and small size making him very hard to tackle.
Here is an extended look at Harris' college highlights.
He went undrafted, but was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He played in five games during the 2011 season, carrying the ball nine times and recording one catch. In the preseason, he was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers but cut four days later. He was signed to the Packers practice squad on Oct. 24 and promoted to the active roster on Dec. 1, which brings us back to Sunday's game.
Harris' first action for the Packers was on the 11-yard carry that opened up the game for the offense. He followed it up with a strong game that made quite the impression.
Here are some tweets that tell what head coach Mike McCarthy likes about the running back.
McCarthy-I like a lot about RB DuJuan Harris, we’ve been working with him, tough kid, talented, as fast vertically as horizontally. #packers
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) December 10, 2012
There was a lot of praise of Harris following his impressive game on national television. Mixed among that praise was McCarthy's biggest knock on Harris in this almost backhanded compliment.
Mike McCarthy on DuJuan Harris this week: "He’s 5-foot-7, but other than that we like everything about him"
— Wes Hodkiewicz (@WesHod) December 10, 2012
He's a physical back who has quickness no other running back on the Packers roster possesses. It's not only his speed that separates him from the other backs, but his size as well, as mentioned by McCarthy.
The small in stature running back showed a beastly side that the Packers running backs haven't had as of recent years. On his first carry, he not only hit the hole well and got up field in a hurry, he finished the run with a punishing blow.
This is Harris approaching the Lions defender ready to make a tackle.
Harris makes the defender pay for tackling him as he delivers quite the blow.
That physical running style is the type that wears on defenders as the game goes along. The Packers haven't shown to be a very physical team, and Harris can help to change that dynamic.
In addition to finishing runs strongly, Harris showed some ability to escape and burst. On the play prior to his 14-yard touchdown run, Harris slipped as he received the handoff from Rodgers.
Instead of gaining no yardage on the slip, Harris was able to get back up and burst through the line of scrimmage toward the second level. His low center of gravity and powerful running style make him hard to locate and tackle.
Once Harris finally faces significant contact, he does a very nice of making sure to fall to get an extra yard on his run. Instead of gaining no yardage or losing a couple feet, Harris was able to turn the play into a gain of five and put the Packers in a favorable down-and-distance.
Harris is not the type of player that the Packers can sit back and hand the ball off to 20 to 25 times a game, but he can still have a big impact. He offers a nice change of pace from Alex Green and Ryan Grant with ability to make a big play with every touch.
By running him in the fourth quarter, the coaching staff showed a real trust in Harris. He should be expected to see the field down the stretch and into the playoffs, but his playing time and carries will likely be dependent on how well he does.
Against the Lions, he showed he's capable of getting the hot hand. He won't carry the offense, but he has a real chance to impact games with presence.