By the conclusion of the Green Bay Packers' victory over the Oakland Raiders on Friday, DuJuan Harris, who got some work with the first-and second-team offense, was the Packers' leading rusher and receiver. This was, notably, in the third preseason game, when the presumed Week 1 starters play the greatest number of snaps.
Harris carried the ball 12 times for 56 yards and caught two passes for 42 yards, including one reception on a short pass up the middle from Aaron Rodgers that went for 31 yards.
The versatility and playmaking ability Harris showed Friday proved that there is still a role for him in Green Bay's talented backfield along with Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
Over the last four games of the 2012 regular season and through the divisional round of the January 2013 playoffs, Harris had 257 yards and two scores for Green Bay, after just being promoted from the practice squad a month earlier. Last August, Mike McCarthy told Tom Pelissero of USA Today Sports that Harris was the Packers' No. 1 back heading into the 2013 season.
"I want him to get back in there and earn it like he did all of last year," McCarthy said at the time. "He made an impact in our offense."
But that opportunity never came for Harris, who injured his patellar tendon in training camp in 2013, not long after McCarthy named him the starter, and was placed on season-ending injured reserve. The knee injury came shortly after he had surgery to remove a cyst that was resting against one of his lungs.
Through three weeks of preseason action, however, Harris has demonstrated that he still has the skills that once earned him the starting nod. He has established himself as a potent weapon in both the ground and passing games.
Harris' performance against Oakland all but erased memories of his fumble against St. Louis, a costly mistake that "disappointed" him greatly, per Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But if the thinking last week was that the door was still open for fellow contenders Michael Hill and Rajion Neal to beat him out for the No. 3 spot, Harris all but locked it down with his performance Friday.
At 5'8" and 203 pounds, Harris offers a nice change of pace from Lacy and Starks. He's smaller and shiftier than those two backs, but he still has enough power to be productive on first and second downs. In fact, new running backs coach Sam Gash has said that he "wants all of his players to be three-down backs," per Dunne, and they just might be.
Learning his backfield for the first time this offseason, Gash has been impressed with what he's seen from Harris, according to Dunne.
DuJuan's shifty. He's got real good balance, good explosion. He could be a good draw runner, an inside zone runner. He's got good control steps. He's a guy who's definitely doing well, and I'm still learning these guys, too.
Running the no-huddle offense as frequently as Green Bay does, there's rarely time to substitute backs within a given possession. Instead, Green Bay can utilize Lacy, Starks and Harris on alternating series, keeping Lacy fresh to take the biggest workload with Starks and Harris to spell him.
A player can always earn a spot on the 53-man roster by being productive on special teams, and Harris flashed some skill against the Raiders, as well. He has been getting first reps at kick returns throughout all of camp, and the practice paid off against Oakland, when he took the opening kickoff back for 34 yards.
No player is perfect, and though he didn't fumble the ball, Harris had his share of mistakes Friday. Two of the Packers' 11 penalties were false starts by Harris, but rather than pull him, as other coaches may have done, McCarthy kept Harris in the game, and it paid off.
Despite the fumble, Harris was Green Bay's leading rusher against St. Louis last week, carrying the ball seven times for 32 yards.
As long as he continues to impress Gash, Harris should opportunities to make an impact in Green Bay's offense in 2014. He may not be the starter, as he was heading into last season, but he'll be a part of one of the league's deepest backfields, one that will pose a pick-your-poison challenge for opposing defenses.
"The defense is not going to know what's going to hit 'em," Harris told Dunne earlier this offseason. "I'm excited to see how much damage we can do."
The answer, if early indications are to be trusted, is a lot.
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