The Green Bay Packers suffered a major blow to their offense, with DuJuan Harris going on season-ending injured reserve as part of the cutdown to 75 players on Tuesday.
Harris missed 12 weeks – including the first two-and-a-half weeks of training camp – trying to rest and rehab a troublesome patellar tendon. It’s the same issue, Harris said, and he will get it fixed through surgery. His final play was an 11-yard gain on a screen against Seattle on Friday night, but Harris said the injury had been bothering him and had “started welling back up.”
After the game, Harris told Packer Report, “I’m good. I walked on my own power so everything’s fine,” and he called the injury a “tweak.” Instead, it was the worst-case scenario for a player who provided an instant running game at the end of last season.
“It is a tweak,” Harris said on Tuesday. “My definition of a tweak is my leg is not off. If my leg is off, then it’s more than a tweak. But I can come back from this and I will come back full strength.”
Under a rule change adopted last year, each team is allowed to assign one player as “designated to return” from injured reserve due to a “major” injury, in which case Harris would have had to spend at least six weeks on injured reserve and couldn’t return to the active roster until after eight weeks. The Packers, however, chose not to go that route, which wasn't surprising considering what Harris said on Tuesday in looking toward his long-term future.
“Too soon to tell right now. Too soon to tell,” Harris said about being able to return this season. “We’ll be good if it’s possible, but then again, you still have to ask the question, ‘What if? What’s best for long term?’ That’s pretty much what we’re doing. We’re going to take it one step at a time. I took the news hard when they first told me. I never thought I’d hear those words. I figure once I’m done with my career, I’m going to have a scar on my knee. That was my goal (not to have one), but if it takes that, it takes that. I still got a lot of years ahead of me and just ready to go at this full-speed.”
The IR designation hadn’t been discussed, McCarthy said after practice.
In other moves to get to the 75-player limit, the Packers released kicker Zach Ramirez and put eight players on injury lists.
Offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee), wide receiver Kevin Dorsey (toe) and outside linebacker Jarvis Reed (ankle) join Harris on injured reserve, and safety Sean Richardson (neck), offensive tackle Derek Sherrod (leg), offensive lineman J.C. Tretter (ankle) and defensive end Jerel Worthy (knee) were placed on reserve/physically unable to perform.
A midseason addition to the practice squad, Harris’ performance on the practice field earned him a late-season promotion to the active roster. He carried 34 times for 157 yards in the regular season and added 28 rushes for 100 yards in the playoffs. Including playoff games, Harris averaged 4.15 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns. All the other running backs combined averaged 3.38 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns.
“It’s a tough one,” McCarthy said sincerely. “He’s definitely a young player that I felt was going to be an impactful player for us on offense. I know it’s a tough blow for him. But we need to get him healthy and we will start that process.”
Harris was a big part of McCarthy’s offseason plans. That’s why, even though Harris didn’t hit the practice field until Aug. 12, he kept Harris atop the depth chart at running back. With a second-round pick invested in Eddie Lacy, McCarthy envisioned a one-two punch of the 5-foot-11, 230-pound Lacy and the 5-foot-7, 203-pound Harris.
“Every offseason, you go through evaluations of your offense, you do offseason studies, you project how you envision your offense looking and then you kind of confirm things after the draft,” McCarthy said. “You have a vision, packages in place on how you’re going to start the season. I’ll just tell you this: DuJuan was a big part of particularly my individual focus for this season.”
Whether he returns at midseason or next season, Harris – who went from selling cars to saving the Packers’ running game -- said not to count him out.
“I’ve still got the same hunger, I’ll still keep the same attitude and everything,” he said. “Just after the surgery, I’ve just got to work my butt off to get back to 100 percent and, when I do, you’ll see me again. Definintely not ending my career. Definitely not ending my career or anything like that. Don’t think everything is over, because it’s not.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.