The Green Bay Packers have long endured a gaping hole at running back that has been filled only momentarily over the last decade, and it won't be filled for long by apparent starter DuJuan Harris.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was quick to praise his back to Tom Pelissero of USA Today on Thursday after he was taken off the PUP list, giving the notion that the starting job is his to lose at the moment:
"I'm excited to see when DuJuan Harris comes back, because I view him as our starter," McCarthy told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday. "I want him to get back in there and earn it like he did all of last year. He made an impact in our offense."
Harris surely did make an impact in 2012, going from a man chasing a car-salesman job one month to the Packers' most influential back late in their playoff run.
When the Packers turned to Harris to fill the void at running back, he had a less-than-stellar career resume. 2011, his rookie season, was spent in Jacksonville, where he had only nine carries over the year and couldn't seem to stay off the practice squad.
Installed as a part of the Packers' rushing rotation for the last four regular season games of 2012, Harris racked up 157 rushing yards and two touchdowns to become one of the featured backs for the playoff run.
It wasn't until the playoff opener against Minnesota that Harris really came out, notching 100 yards combined in receiving and rushing with a touchdown to help the Packers pick up a 24-10 victory. He had another impressive game against San Francisco, but Green Bay ultimately lost, which ended its season.
However, despite his successes late last season, he's not the long-term answer at the position. That man was picked with Green Bay's second-rounder in this year's draft—Alabama product Eddie Lacy.
Lacy dazzled in Green Bay's first scrimmage—picking up eight carries for 65 yards, per Pelissero. He was arguably the best back in college football last season, and star quarterback Aaron Rodgers talked up his new addition in the backfield, per Pelissero:
"I think everybody's been really impressed with Eddie and how he's looked in pads," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "He offers something a little different — a big back who's got incredible vision."
The praise for Lacy didn't stop there. Packers general manager Ted Thompson made some comments on his rookie running back, per the Packers' official Twitter account:
All of the big-time talk over Lacy comes just days after a not-so-appealing picture was taken that you can see below, invoking a Twitter firestorm of people questioning his weight:
However, after Lacy's success early on in training camp, Packers beat writer Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal poked fun at the suddenly altered mindset of Green Bay fans after seeing the rookie in action:
Running backs were a theme in the Packers' 2013 draft class, also picking up Johnathan Franklin out of UCLA in the fourth round.
Simply put, teams don't just pick up two backs in one draft if they feel like a back on the roster is capable of carrying the starter's load for long.
Lacy's best trait is—like Rodgers said—the ability to possess breakaway speed and vision while also being able to lower his shoulder and pick up extra yardage with his pads.
Franklin resembles more of Harris in that they're both somewhat short and shifty with a decent-sized frame. They can both run between the tackles and get outside. That means that if Franklin excels in the preseason, he could ideally replace Harris.
For Harris, he answered an immediate need for Green Bay at a desperate time last season. That much should be praised, and if he can bring that same ability to the field in 2013, he should get his fair share of carries.
After all, we haven't seen any struggles from Harris in actual game play. His only struggles have been getting that playing time. And until he shows something on the field that proves he's not worthy of being in the rotation, he should be.
But for McCarthy to hint that he'll be the starter going forward is a little premature for a player coming off an injury who has two highly touted rookie backs hunting for his job.
Expect Harris to make the roster and earn his way into the rotation, but he won't be the Packers running back breaking out as their long-term starter in 2013.