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DuJuan Harris Lines Up as Kick Returner at Packers Minicamp

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DuJuan Harris Lines Up as Kick Returner at Packers Minicamp

As the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Eddie Lacy has the running back position under control in Green Bay.

Head coach MIke McCarthy has talked about Lacy being a three-down player in the offseason, perhaps hinting that there won't be many times Lacy is going to come off the field.

And in the rare instance Lacy needs a breather, the Packers seem destined to turn to James Starks, to whom they gave a two-year, $3.25 million contract in the offseason.

If DuJuan Harris is going to find his way onto the field in 2014 and be part of the gameday 46-man roster, he's going to need to offer more than just being a running back. As long as Lacy and Starks are healthy, carries will be difficult to come by.

So it makes sense Harris lined up as a kick returner on Tuesday, the first of a three-day minicamp for the Packers.

"I want DuJuan Harris to be the best running back he can be and be the best special teams player that he can be," said McCarthy. "This is something a little new to him, the return game, so he's been spending a lot of extra time catching balls after practice and so forth."

Harris has never been a return specialist for the Packers, playing in just five games at running back at the end of the 2012 season and missing all of 2013 with a torn meniscus.

When he was a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011, however, Harris did return 14 kickoffs for 308 yards, an average of 22.0 yards per attempt with a long of 35.

Despite being a top-notch return specialist with two career touchdowns on punt returns and another on kick returns, the Packers are looking to spare Randall Cobb from special teams duty, or at least on a regular basis. He's become too valuable to the offense to expose to injury.

Harris is one of many players vying for the return gig, along with defensive back Micah Hyde, who took over such duties late last season and did particularly well as a punt returner.

Rookies Jared Abbrederis—who handled return duties at the University of Wisconsin—and Jeff Janis are also in the mix. And you'd think Johnathan Franklin would be getting an opportunity if he wasn't sitting out the Packers' offseason program due to a neck injury suffered last season.

At 5-8 and 203 lbs., Harris offers a different body type than most running backs and return specialists on the roster. He's short and stout but also quick.

"He has that unique ability," said McCarthy. "His size and strength and explosiveness I think makes him unique as a potential returner."

Considering he just started practicing as a kick returner, Harris is a long way from winning the job.

But it's difficult to count out a guy that was a used car salesman not long ago. If Harris can start become the starting running back for a playoff football team like he did in 2012, one might think he's capable of returning kicks.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

Photo: Packers running back DuJuan Harris by Cary Edmondson—USA TODAY Sports.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (3) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Ibleedgreenmore's picture

It would seem several are going to have to find a spot. So much talent on this team, the cuts will be something.

Stroh's picture

Harris is the ideal KR for the Packers IMO. Franklin had his chance and flat sucked at it. Harris should be much better at it. He doesn't dance around much and will run w/ more assertiveness and physicality. If he shows anything doing it in preseason he'll be the KR.

Cobb got hurt playing WR... So the Packers should reduce his risk of injury at WR by playing him fewer snaps and keeping him on PR. He's easily the best PR on the roster. Let him do what he was drafted for... Play WR and be the primary return man. I don't mind using Harris at KR, but Cobb should still be the PR IMO.

Abbrederis is going to have serious competition for a roster spot. Best thing that could happen for him is to go on PS for a year. If he isn't the PR, he is in the fight of his life for a roster spot, and its not like he's going to excel at PR. Just an ordinary, sure handed returner.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I know your not a fan of Abbrederis. I respect that. But i really have a hard time not seeing him on the 53.

First Thompson does not like to cut players he drafted. Especially guys in the 5th round or higher.
Also, he does offer PR ability and that will help his chances on the 53 to play. There is a real possibility that he will be the main PR in Green Bay this year.
I know there is alot of talent at the WR spot, but he was drafted in the 5th round for a reason. Also I have heard from several different places that the Packers feel they got a steal with him in the 5th round.

Unless he gets hurt or absolutely shows he can't play, I don't see anyway he isn't on the 53.

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