26

March

Packers RB DuJuan Harris: Real Deal or Flavor of the Month?

DuJuan Harris

Packers RB DuJuan Harris

Packers running back DuJuan Harris has been getting a lot of attention lately.

Here’s what Packers coach Mike McCarthy recently said about him:

“Oh, he’s going to play for us next season. That’s his responsibility if wants to be the starter….I wish we would have had DuJuan earlier. He was a young man that we were just getting ready to try to put in the game. Everybody’s like ‘Just put him in there.’”

Cheesehead TV co-founder and senior NFL video producer at Bleacher Report Aaron Nagler recently Tweeted this about Harris:

“Watching DuJuan Harris run the football is one of my favorite things.”

Tyler Dunne had a feature story on Harris at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Here’s an excerpt:

“The second-year pro from Troy finished as the Packers’ top back, rushing for 257 yards on 62 carries with four scores in six games. This off-season – as outside pressure mounts for Green Bay to land a bigger, durable, every-down back – Harris has hit the mute button.”

So, is Harris for real? Could a 5-foot-7 dude plucked from an auto dealership halfway through last season really be the Packers answer at running back?

Maybe.

Let’s look at why Harris might be the real deal, and why he might be just another flavor of the month.

Real Deal

  • Have you seen the guy run? Holy cow! Quick. Decisive. Explosive. Good vision. Strong. Moves forward. Packs a punch. Physical. You ask yourself why a guy like him was selling cars instead of ramming into NFL defenders.
  • His attitude. Go read that entire story from Dunne again. Harris sounds like a great guy who knows how the NFL operates and is ready to fight like hell for a starting job.
  • Who else is there? Sure, I suppose the Packers could draft a running back early, but do we really think Ted Thompson would spend a first-rounder on a running back? Never say never, but odds are the competition at running back will be between James Starks (yawn), Alex Green (yawn again), a lower-round pick (yawn some more) and Harris.

Flavor of the Month

13

March

2013 NFL Draft Preview: Ranking Packers Running Back Prospects

North Carolina RB Gio Bernard

North Carolina RB Gio Bernard

Running back can be a tough position to evaluate headed into the NFL Draft.

Take last year for example. Trent Richardson was considered a “can’t-miss” guy at the top of the draft, but Alfred Morris, the 173rd overall pick, had the best season of all rookie running backs last year.

This year’s draft doesn’t have a clear-cut top back. There isn’t a Richardson or an Adrian Peterson in this year’s draft class, but there are a handful of intriguing prospects that could step in and start for a team from day one.

Nearly all draft rankings have the same two guys at the top: Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard. Most have Lacy firmly entrenched as a first-round pick with Bernard projected to go in round two.

Lacy and Bernard are completely different backs. While Lacy is a physical, punishing runner, Bernard is a versatile player capable of doing damage in the passing game as well as between the tackles. In today’s pass-happy NFL, I prefer Bernard as a prospect slightly ahead of Lacy.

But beyond the top two guys, this year’s crop of running backs has some quality depth. Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, Clemson’s Andre Ellington, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball all have a chance to be selected on Day 2.

Perhaps the most interesting running back in this year’s class is Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina. Lattimore suffered the most gruesome knee injuries I’ve ever seen last season, and concerns over his long-term health will likely cause him to drop to the third round.

It would be an upset if the Packers don’t add a running back at some point this offseason, whether it’s a veteran via free agency or a young guy through the draft.

1. Gio Bernard, North Carolina (5-8, 202)

  • Draft stock: Late 1st/Early 2nd
  • 40 time: 4.53, 225-pound bench: 19 reps, 10-yard split: 1.53
  • Two-year starter, declared after his RS Sophomore season.
  • The second round is likely where Bernard will be selected, but I really believe he’s the best running back in this class. On top of being a talented runner, he’s a dangerous return man and receiver. I see Bernard as Ray Rice 2.0, and I really think he’d be a natural fit in the Packers’ offense.
12

March

Will John Kuhn Return to the Packers?

John Kuhn

My hunch is the Packers bring FB John Kuhn back in 2013.

Most of the offseason focus on Packers roster cuts has focused on Jermichael Finley and A.J. Hawk. Both of those players elicit strong reactions from Packers fans.

Mention Finley on a sports-talk radio show and the phones lines light up. Drop Hawk’s name in a blog post and the comments section gets heated in a hurry.

John Kuhn doesn’t move the needle like Finley or Hawk. Most Packers fans like Kuhn. They view Kuhn as an underdog who got where he is through toughness and hard work. They also like yelling “Kuuuuuuuhn!” whenever he touches the ball.

As well-liked as the fullback from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania is, however, there’s a chance his days in Green Bay could be over.

Kuhn is set to make $2.6 million in 2013. That’s a lot of money to pay a back in a passing offense who isn’t much of a threat to run, pick up short-yardage first downs or turn checkdown passes into big gains.

Kuhn played 39.2 percent of the Packers offensive snaps in 2012. Pro Football Focus gave him an overall grade of 4.3 for the season, ranking him 12th among all fullbacks  (out of 25 that were graded)..

His blocking grade of 4.4 ranked him 16th and his running grade of -1.1 ranked 23rd.

Do those numbers merrit a $2.6 million salary? Probably not, but my hunch is Kuhn will be back unless the Packers could really use that extra $2.6 million to get the Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews contract extensions out of the way sooner rather than later.

I doubt Thompson is going to do much in free agency besides maybe a signing or two for depth. Thompson probably won’t need Kuhn’s cap space to sign free agents.

I also have a hunch that the Packers will head into 2013 with Evan Dietrich-Smith at center and Marshall Newhouse at left tackle. Either that or Dietrich-Smith at center, Bryan Bulaga at left tackle and Don Barclay at right tackle. Whichever combination happens to be the one, Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers are going to want a pass-blocking back who knows where to be and can get the job done.

22

February

Packers Alex Green: 2012 Player Evaluation and Report Card

1) Introduction:  The Packers selected Green in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Green attended the University of Hawaii after transferring from Butte College—the same school Aaron Rodgers attended before transferring to the University of California. As a rookie, Green was in line for an expanded role within the offense before a torn ACL ended his season early. Coming off major knee surgery, it was unknown how much of an impact Green would have this season.

2) Profile:

Alexander Denell Green

  • Age: 24
  • Born: 06/23/1988, in Portland, OR
  • Height: 6’0″
  • Weight: 225
  • College: Hawaii
  • Rookie Year: 2011
  • NFL Experience: 2 years

 Career stats and more:

3) Expectations coming into the season:  Green suffered a torn ACL Oct. 23 of last season, and he was back on the field for the team’s preseason opener on August 8. He started the preseason behind James Starks on the depth chart. And when Cedric Benson signed with the team, Green fell behind him as well.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights:  Green played well replacing Benson after his injury against the Indianapolis Colts. He finished with 61 yards on ten carries, thanks primarily to a 41-yard burst in the fourth quarter. When DuJuan Harris emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 back, Green’s role within the offense was essentially eliminated.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success:  When Cedric Benson suffered a foot injury Oct. 7, Green assumed the role as the team’s starting running back. He started the ensuing three games but failed to run away with the job. James Starks and DuJuan Harris each took a turn as the team’s feature back.

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs:  Green was active for the Minnesota Vikings game and inactive for the divisional round contest against the San Francisco 49ers. He didn’t touch the ball in the postseason.

Season Report Card:

(B-) Level of expectations met during the season

(C-) Contributions to team’s overall success.

(F) Contributions to team during the playoffs

Overall Grade: C-

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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5

February

Packers Running Backs: Present and Future?

DuJuan Harris - Packers Running Back

DuJuan Harris – Packers Running Back

I dig into every article I can find about the Packers and the draft, including here at Al’s site.  There is a wide range of opinions on the subject of Packers running backs.  Lets look at my views on running backs,  those with the team, and in the draft.

The Packers currently have six running backs and one full back listed on their roster.  Those include running backs Cedric Benson, Alex Green, James Starks, Brandon Saine, Dujuan Harris, Ryan Grant and John Kuhn at full back.  Grant filled a spot caused by injuries, showed he can still do a little, but like last year, just say thank you and good luck.   The question on Benson would be is he even worth bringing back?  He did ok at best. He is a talented back with mileage and age, he just turned 30 and is coming back from a foot injury that required surgery.   I don’t see any compelling reason to bring him back other then competition.

Harris looks like a very good 3rd down back that can fill in nicely when needed to start, but not a “featured back”.  He does it all pretty well.  Has a decent jump cut, might need to be a bit more patient looking for cut back lanes.  He needs to be brought back and coached up over the off season.  Starks has shown he can be productive as a runner, is a good receiver out of the back field, but needs to work on blitz pickup.  How much time do you put into a talented 6th round RB that can’t stay healthy?  I think he should be brought back, but with any additional injuries he would get a quick hook from me.

Saine, another UDFA like Harris, has good straight line speed, is a decent receiver out of the back field and quite good in blitz pickup.  His ability in Pass Protection might have been his best asset. Not a great fit for the Packers running game.  He lacks lateral agility, but has quickness and speed.

19

January

What Route Will Packers Take at Running Back?

Packers RB DuJuan Harris

Packers RB DuJuan Harris

For the third consecutive season, the Green Bay Packers failed to have a 1,000-yard running back.

To start the season, the Packers surprised many by signing veteran Cedric Benson and making him the starter. Benson was supposed to be “the guy” in the backfield. And while he added another dimension to the offense, he suffered a Lisfranc injury Oct. 7 against Indianapolis and was sidelined for the rest of the season.

In all likelihood, Benson will not return next season.

Second-year running back Alex Green stepped in and filled Benson’s shoes as the starter. Green showed flashes but failed to make the most of his opportunity.

So when James Starks was ready to return, the team gave him a shot as the primary ball carrier. Starks was more effective than Green, but a late-season knee injury threatened his season. Facing the possibility of putting Starks on injured reserve, the team needed a backup plan.

In comes Ryan Grant–the guy the Packers showed no interest in re-signing when he was an unrestricted free agent last summer. But desperate times called for desperate measures. Grant carried the ball 20 times for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans, perhaps the best game by a Packers running back all season.

But ultimately, the Packers went with second-year player DuJuan Harris, whom they called up from the practice squad Dec. 1. Harris was likely the team’s most consistent option in the backfield but may be best-suited for a change-of-pace role within the offense.

This begs the question–Who will be the Packers’ starting running back next season?

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests that the Packers are “seeking (a) leading man at running back.” There are several veteran runners scheduled to become free agents.

Among the unrestricted free agents the Packers could go after are St. Louis’ Steven Jackson, Miami’s Reggie Bush, Dallas’ Felix Jones and the New York Jets’ Shonn Greene. Jackson would be ideal, but the Packers would probably only be interested in him in the secondary market given he will be 30 in July.

The Packers have been tied to Jackson for some time, but he’s certainly declining athletically. Bush fell 14 yards short of his second-straight 1,000-yard season, and he’ll likely be too expensive for the Packers. Jones and Greene both have shown flashes, but neither player has lived up to their draft position.

30

December

Packers at Vikings: Keys To The Game

Aaron Rodgers vs. Minnesota Vikings

Rodgers in a baseball cap and waving a celebratory towel would be a welcome sight on Sunday. Green Bay can clinch a playoff bye with a win

Here we are in week 17 and another season is nearly in the books.  The Green Bay Packers end their regular season schedule with a trip to Minnesota to face the Vikings.  A few years back, the NFL changed its schedule making such that the last week of the season would be a divisional game for all teams.  This was in the hopes that the games would be meaningful and teams wouldn’t rest slews of their starters in preparation for the postseason.

The NFL has gotten its wish this year and with this game.  Each team has something on the line.  The Vikings need to win to secure a playoff spot.  The Packers can clinch the second seed in the NFC with a win.  Should the Vikings win, the Packers can still gain the #2 seed with a San Francisco and a Seattle loss.

Last week’s format was a success so I’m going stick with a “Keys to the Game” theme.  Let’s see what will likely determine the outcome of tomorrow’s contest.

Vikings Running Back Adrian Peterson

I feel like a broken record with the thoughts I share about Peterson but given the season he is having, they bear some repeating.  According to ESPN, Peterson has 1,898 yards in 15 games.  102 yards shy of 2,000 yards, an accomplishment only six other running backs can claim.  Peterson is also 208 yards shy of the 28 year-old and all-time single-season rushing record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.

Peterson is surely going to win a major award after this season.  Whether it’s the Comeback Player of the Year, Most Valuable Player award or Offensive MVP, Peterson deserves at least one of those.  I watched some of the tape of Peterson’s first game at Green Bay this season.   He is running as quickly and as hard as ever.  Many of the yards he picked up on long runs in that game came after contact.  Nowadays, we see more and more backs running out of bounds or diving to the ground before the big hit.  Peterson is a throwback and reminds me a lot of Walter Payton.