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 [email protected].
Photo: Packers running back DuJuan Harris by Cary Edmondson—USA TODAY Sports.
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