DuJuan Harris: Who is this guy?

DuJuan Harris was a name alien to all Green Bay Packers fans heading into Sunday night’s game against the Detroit Lions.

But when he ripped off that 10-yard run on the Packers first play from scrimmage, heads turned, eyebrows raised and there was a collective shout of “who?” across the NFL world.

So, just who is this guy? Clearly, he’s a young running back who has a spark and explosiveness that Packers fans haven’t seen in a long, long time in the team’s backfield. But he’s also a guy who has only seven carries as a Green Bay Packer. The 31 yards he picked up for the Packers Sunday night were minuscule in the grand scheme of the NFL’s world. He’s no Emmitt Smith. He’s no Jim Brown. He’s no Walter Payton. He’s no Barry Sanders.

But he did give the Packers some hope and needed depth in a season when the team’s run game has been near nonexistent. About the only person on the planet who has seemed committed to the team’s efforts to run this season has been been head coach Mike McCarthy. Surprisingly, in the past five games the Packers have averaged 136 yards per contest – a statistic that is surprising for the Packers and their pass-happy attack.

While that particular statistic may come as a surprise to many, even more of a surprise to me has been McCarthy’s continued commitment to the ground game … but it is December. In Green Bay. In the NFC North. Running the ball at this time of year wins championships and McCarthy clearly understands this. Even when his team fell behind by 14-0 to the Lions Sunday night, McCarthy stayed with the plan, didn’t panic and didn’t abandon the run. Part of that plan was to utilize the 5-foot, 7-inch Harris.

It all paid off late in the game when the offensive line opened a huge hole and Harris ran 14 yards untouched for a touchdown that all but sealed the Packers win over the Lions and ensured another step toward a potential NFC North Division title. Who would have thought that, with MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers under center, that it would be the ground game that would be propelling the Packers at this point in the season.

And who would have thought that we would be cheering the efforts of a diminutive running back just days after the team had re-signed one of its better backs in recent years – Ryan Grant?

But to get back to Harris – no, he’s not an every down back who will carry the load through an entire 16-game NFL season, but he does appear to be a change-of-pace back who could add a new dimension to the Packers backfield. It’s unclear whether he can catch the ball consistently, but his college statistics weren’t completely devoid of receiving yards (see below), so Mike McCarthy must feel comfortable with that part of his game. Only time will tell on that front.

But he may be that diamond in the rough – the player who has slipped through the cracks, if you will – who could help the Packers to their next step along this slippery slope that has been the 2012 season. Harris has already slipped through the fingers of many. As an undrafted free agent, he was originally signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars out of Troy where he played 50 games over four years, rushed 540 times for 2,635 yards (4.9 average) and scored 27 times. He also caught 79 passes for 553 yards (7 yard average) and scored five times through the air.

He stuck with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011 but was released by that team Aug. 25, 2012. He was then picked up off waivers by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Aug. 27. However, his stay with that team was short-lived as he was released just four days later.

He was out of football until Oct. 24 when the Packers silently signed him to their practice squad. On Dec. 1, he was signed to the team’s active roster. He got his first playing time Sunday night on national television and was on the field for the Packers first offensive play, took the pitch from Aaron Rodgers and scooted behind the block of another undrafted free agent, right tackle Don Barclay, for 10 yards and his first, first down carry for the Packers. He got five more carries on the night in which he picked up two or fewer yards per crack until he burst through the fourth quarter hole for his first NFL touchdown and the opportunity for his first Lambeau Leap.

So, given the quick start to his Packers career, how he fits in from here on out is up to McCarthy. He most likely will be utilized much like he was this past Sunday night, but in the end he could be just what the running game doctor ordered.

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