Packers RB Harris ‘feeding the monster’ to get back where he was

DuJuan Harris, who got his first action in a Packers uniform late in the 2012 season, still only has 62 carries, 257 rushing yards and four touchdowns (playoffs included) to his credit so far with Green Bay. He's hungry for more in 2014.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — DuJuan Harris isn’t thinking about his role in the Green Bay Packers offense this season. The 25-year-old running back learned that lesson last year when he went into training camp as the starter and was on injured reserve before preseason even concluded.

Being sidelined for a full season would be a big deal for any NFL player, but Harris knows how quickly his dream can be completely taken away. After all, his path to Green Bay began with a brief stop with the Jacksonville Jaguars before Harris had to turn to selling used cars when no other team came calling.

When Harris suffered a season-ending patellar tendon injury to his right knee last year, he didn’t have to resort to looking for non-football jobs. The Packers had every intention of getting Harris healthy and having him ready to contribute in 2014. But that time away served as important moments in his career and in his life.

"Going through all that stuff, it’s just feeding the monster," Harris said. "It’s feeding the monster. The monster is hungry and it’s just feeding it. Once he explodes, it’s like, ‘oh, my God, he’s been there the whole time; you’ve just been feeding him. He was hungry the whole time, you’re just feeding him.’"

That motivation helped fuel Harris as he was forced to wait nearly 10 months before being allowed to run again. The knee injury originally happened on the first day of the 2013 offseason training activities and was aggravated in the third preseason game. From late August of last year until he reported back to Green Bay this year, Harris reminded himself of the journey he’s already been on to get to this point.

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"It’s really just showing that I’m not trying to give up," Harris said. "I’m not trying to give up on anything. I’m a go-getter, I’m going to try to eat any way possible I can. That’s how people can take it. If I’ve got to sell a car to eat, so be it; I’ll sell a car. If I’ve got to go out here, bleed and sweat and everything else to eat, I’ll go eat. If I’ve got to go into construction and lift rocks and throw rocks, whatever, so be it.

"I have a son and I have a lifestyle that I want to live, so I’m not going to get tired of working for it. I’m going to keep working. That’s one thing people can know about me."

Harris expected his hard work to pay off in a major way last season as the Packers’ starting running back. Head coach Mike McCarthy classified him as such on multiple occasions at the time. Now, though, after the emergence of NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy, Harris is working to gain his coach’s attention once again. But that could take a lot of time and a lot of work.

"I want DuJuan Harris to be the best running back that he can be and the best special teams player," McCarthy said during minicamp in June. "It’s something we can do with him — the return game, so we spent a lot of extra time on catching balls after practice. He has the unique ability, with his size and strength and explosiveness, it makes him unique to defend in the return."

From starting running back to potential kick returner is a fairly steep drop-off in one year, especially when it wasn’t as a result of poor play. But even if he does emerge as Green Bay’s primary kick returner, it wouldn’t interfere with his spot on the running back depth chart. That brings in its own set of questions for Harris, as Lacy is the obvious starter and James Starks was re-signed this offseason to a two-year, $3.25 million contract.

"I’m not thinking about if I’m second-string, first-string, third-string," Harris said. "I’m not really thinking about all that right now. I’m just thinking about whatever my name is on and they call my number to go out there for a play, I’m going to go out there and do it the best I can. I’m not thinking about all this other stuff, position battle, stuff like that."

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Harris, who got his first action in a Packers uniform late in the 2012 season, still only has 62 carries, 257 rushing yards and four touchdowns (playoffs included) to his credit so far with Green Bay. Unless Lacy and Starks are hit with injuries, Harris’ numbers will steadily — not drastically — increase this season. But no matter where he falls into the rotation with Lacy and Starks, Harris will make sure he’s ready.

"You never know how the game goes," Harris said. "Everybody thought I was going to be a part of it last year, but I wasn’t. All of us are preparing to be the starter. Yeah, I might be a good change-of-pace back, but there might be a time where I have to be the only back. You never know.

"I wasn’t even supposed to be in the NFL, but I became an NFL starter. Things happen. Things happen and you just have to take advantage of opportunities."

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