Justin Harrell: The New Anchor for the Green Bay Packer Defense?

Carter BierwirthContributor IOctober 14, 2008

Defensive tackle Justin Harrell was activated by the Green Bay Packers Tuesday. The former University of Tennessee standout defensive lineman has not practiced with the team since the end of last year when he suffered an injury to his back.

Harrell was taken as the 16th pick in the 2007 NFL Draft in a move that I didn't exactly see the benefit in, but it was a first-round pick after all. However, the weakened Packer defense needs all of the help they can get this season. On top of the injuries to defensive end Cullin Jenkins and cornerback Al Harris, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett found himself leaving the game against Seattle early this past Sunday.

Harrell had only played in seven games with the Packers in 2007. The 320-pound lineman was nursing a torn bicep before he even reported to Packer training camp last June. It was not long before he suffered an ankle injury that made him useless for the vast majority of the 2007 season.

When Harrell returned to the defensive line he became a solid player; recording 22 tackles in the final six regular season games. Harrell was returned to the Unable to Physically Perform List to start the 2008 season for Green Bay thanks to a late back injury in March while lifting weights. 

Harrell has done his best to stay below the radar during his recovery this season. He reported that he had been avoiding the locker room during media availability in order to not draw attention to himself.

"I didn't want to start the season off like this, but it happened, and I'm just trying to make the best of it. Now that window's about to open and we're going to see what happens from there. Everything's great. I'm just looking forward to it," reported Harrell during one of his brief media appearances.

The defensive tackle has also been training hard in his recovery. During an appearance after one of his three-hour training and conditioning sessions he reported losing "15 to 20 pounds". He also stated that he would have returned earlier had he not been placed on the PUP list.

The Packer Defense is very excited about Harrell's return to the team. Pickett claimed that Harrell would greatly aid them (of course well before Picket himself left with an injury).

A.J. Hawk is nursing a groin injury, but continues to play. Charles Woodson has become the defensive standout with several key interceptions playing on a broken toe. Pickett is among the newly injured and Jenkins is out with a torn pectoral. Harris is out with his spleen injury. Strong safety Atari Bigby has yet to return while strong safety Aaron Rouse, corner/return man Will Blackmon, defensive ends Mike Montgomery and Jason Hunter are also out.

Harrell's return to the line could not have been at a better time, but can the injury-prone  playmaker make a difference in the defensive battlefield, or will the former first-round draft pick fall short of expectations once more? Either way, the Green Bay Packer defense finds its job to relieve Rodgers and the offense harder with each passing week.