GREEN BAY, Wis. — DuJuan Harris was the best running back option for the Packers in Sunday’s regular-season finale, but it wasn’t enough to earn the starting job permanently heading into the playoffs.
“We don’t have a starting running back,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday.
Harris accounted for 14 of Green Bay’s 16 carries in the loss to the Minnesota Vikings, rushing for 70 yards (5.0 average). Veteran Ryan Grant started the game and got the first two rushing attempts, but after that, it was all Harris.
“I thought DuJuan Harris played well, and he’s getting better each week,” McCarthy said of the player who got his first carry of the season in Week 14. “We’re doing everything we can to keep progressing him because he does have unique skills and run ability that I haven’t had the opportunity to work with in my time here. (Running backs coach) Alex Van Pelt has done a great job of working with the young man getting him ready, so he was able to get the opportunities.
“Like I said before, we’re going to run the guy we feel has the hot hand, and he was that guy (Sunday).”
Alex Green, who started four games at running back in the regular season, was healthy and active for the game but didn’t play a single down.
“Going into the game, we really went with Ryan Grant and DuJuan Harris as the focal point,” McCarthy said. “They’re (Nos.) 1 and 2, and we were just going to see how the game unfolded.”
Harris was added to the Packers’ active roster on Dec. 1. Early on, he was only in on plays in which he got the ball. But recently, as he’s continued to learn the offense, Harris has gotten closer to being an every-down back. Against the Vikings, he was on the field for 38 snaps — more than Green, Grant and fullback John Kuhn combined — despite running the ball only 14 times.
But in the Packers-Vikings rematch Saturday night, the rotation at running back could change.
“That’s something that the work week will answer,” McCarthy said. “We’ll go through the game-planning, we’ll try to make sure all three of those guys are ready to go. But really, the way the game flows, will have a lot to do with who gets the carries.”
It’s also possible that James Starks, who got the majority of the carries in Weeks 9, 11 and 13, could return from his knee injury and enter into the running back competition.
“I know James is getting close (to returning),” McCarthy said. “I’m hopeful he’ll be able to get to the practice field this week. But we’ll see where he is.”
Regardless of which running back the Packers feature in the playoffs, they will be the only team in the NFC bracket without a clear No. 1 option. The sixth-seeded Vikings have the league’s top rusher in Adrian Peterson. The No. 4 Washington Redskins hand the ball to rookie Alfred Morris, who finished second in the NFL in rushing yards. Marshawn Lynch, the league’s third-leading rusher, is a big reason for the fifth-seeded Seattle Seahawks’ postseason spot. San Francisco’s Frank Gore is 10th in the league in rushing. And though the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons don’t have a rusher in the top 20 in the NFL rankings, Michael Turner’s 800 rushing yards is still 336 yards more than any running back on the Packers’ roster (Green leads with 464 yards).
In order for the Packers to emerge from the NFC and make a run to the Super Bowl, they’ll need one of their lesser-known running backs to give them a boost.