|Diminutive DuJuan Harris made an impact in limited duty for the Packers on Sunday. (AP)|
Even the most diehard Packers fans probably were unsure who that tiny man in the backfield with the dreadlocks hanging down over his No. 26 jersey was, taking the first handoff of the game and later scoring the go-ahead touchdown in Green Bay’s 27-20 win over the Lions at snowy Lambeau Field on Sunday night.
But whoever he was, he sure made a serious impact and a great first impression.
In his first game with the Packers since being signed off the practice squad on Dec. 1, RB DuJuan Harris carried seven times for 31 yards, nearly equaling his career totals coming into the game (nine carries, 42 yards in five games with the Jaguars last year).
On Sunday night, Harris (5-foot-8, 203 pounds) was quick, decisive and staggeringly powerful for a player his size, as evidenced by the truck-stick hit he laid on a Lions safety at the end of his 11-yard run to start the game.
He’s a change of pace back, sure, but one that packs a punch.
Later, in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 17, Harris took a hand-off 14 yards from the end zone, emerged from behind his offensive line, hit the hole he said had “opened up like the Red Sea” and cruised in untouched for the go-ahead touchdown.
After the game, coach Mike McCarthy said he liked “a lot about” Harris, especially how he’s taken advantage of every opportunity since the Packers signed him to their practice squad in late October.
“I like the way he’s worked since he’s arrived here. He’s done a good job,” McCarthy said. “He has a unique skill set. It’s very evident that not everybody has seen him in live action, but we had another opportunity to put him into a regular game.”
McCarthy said he’d wanted to get Harris into last week’s game against the Vikings but it hadn’t worked out. He was clearly committed to giving Harris a chance Sunday against the Lions, starting him in order to keep him from getting “lost in the game-planning portion of the game.
“That’s why I ran him the first play of offense because I wanted to make sure he got in there and try to get him going.”
On Monday, McCarthy said he wants to get Harris involved in the game even more and do different things with him. He reiterated that he likes the first-year back “a lot” and added that “he's as fast vertically as he is horizontally.”
QB Aaron Rodgers has been in Harris’ corner for a while now. He was a frontrunner on the diminutive scatback’s bandwagon, saying he was impressed how hard Harris worked on the scout team and the ability he showed in practice.
“DuJuan, we’ve kind of been talking about a lot in practice,” Rodgers said. “We wanted to get him some carries last week, but Alex (Green) and James (Starks) ran the ball really well. So (against the Lions) we started off the game, gave him the ball (and) he had a big-time run, explosive run for us, ran a guy over and (we) gave him a couple of opportunities. He made the most of them.
“He just has unique agility I think. He’s able to make those jump cuts which I can only dream about. It’s pretty impressive to watch him in practice.”
McCarthy said such practice-field verve and acceptance from teammates was evident to the coaches, as well.
“When teammates high-five in practice, that speaks volumes,” McCarthy said.
On Monday, McCarthy gave credit to the Packers’ personnel department and their evaluation process in being able to find the undersized and unheralded back.
“The only thing is DuJuan Harris is 5-foot-7,” McCarthy said, “but you watch the tape.”
He added that the team was able to use Harris as something of a secret weapon on Sunday.
The question is, can he keep improving and become a dynamic, productive weapon like the Saints’ Darren Sproles or the Falcons’ Jacquizz Rodgers?
“Let's be honest, the quality of play sometimes favors the one that has the field tilted his way -- maybe not knowing about DuJuan Harris, exactly what he could do,” McCarthy said of opponents being in the dark. “That’s why it was important to get him out there. He goes roaring around the corner on the first play of the game, it’s different. We haven’t had a runner like that in my time here. So how do you keep utilizing (Harris)?
“We're not going to trick anybody, especially down the stretch here. If you keep trying to tilt the field a little bit your way schematically or in games … that's what we’re trying to accomplish. At the end of the day, the players have to execute.”
If Harris can fit into the Packers’ platoon, running back-by-committee situation with Green and Grant, there’s potential for an effective running game. McCarthy and Rodgers both noted that the three players all bring a different style, different strengths to the position.
For his part, Green said after the game he was all for the shared success in the backfield. He called Harris’ touchdown “excellent” and seemed genuinely happy for the rags-to-riches success of his teammate.
“That’s what it’s all about, making the most of your opportunities,” Green said. “He just proved that (Sunday night). Hopefully it leads to him getting more carries in the future.”
Follow Packers reporter James Carlton on Twitter: @CBSPackers and @jimmycarlton88.