Thompson's Shrewd Move Paying Off
by Mike Conklin
January 6, 2013
There can be no doubt that the Packers offense runs through Aaron Rodgers.
But in their Wild Card victory over the Vikings, an argument could be made that the offense was actually more effective when it was running through DuJuan Harris.
Harris is considered a first-year player since he spent so little time on the Jaguars roster last season. He has been playing like anything but a first-year player for the Packers this year. Since his first game when he was only inserted into the lineup for seven snaps and ran the ball on each of those plays, the Packers have expanded and diversified his role more and more. He has been catching passes, picking up blitzes, and has made very few mistakes.
His role in the offense grew even more this week, and the offense may have been at its best when he was the focal point. The Packers scored three touchdowns in Saturday's playoff game against the Vikings. One of the drives only lasted a minute, as the team got the ball with little time left in the first half and Rodgers was able to zip the team down the field and score before the half ended. But the other two touchdown drives featured Harris, Harris, and more Harris.
On the Packers' first touchdown drive of the game, Harris touched the ball no fewer than seven times. He had five carries for 22 yards, including an impressive touchdown that few players on the planet could do without touching a knee to the ground. (In fact, it was so unbelievable that the referees apparently did not think it was possible and ruled him down. Mike McCarthy had to challenge the play, and it was indeed found to be a touchdown.) Harris also had two receptions for 28 yards on the drive.
On the other touchdown drive at the beginning of the third quarter, Harris was featured heavily once again. He carried the ball three times for 14 yards, and proved to be a useful receiver once again when he added two more passes for 18 yards.
Those two drives were comprised of 23 plays, and DuJuan Harris handled the ball on 12 of them. The Packers were relying on their young player, and he delivered. He was able to gain 100 total yards in the game, a feat that had not been achieved by a Packers running back in the postseason since James Starks ran for 123 yards against the Eagles in the Wild Card round after the 2010 season.
Like many players, DuJuan Harris is on Twitter. His handle is "@Ol_SLy_Foxx" which is a reference to his childhood nickname. But Harris isn't the only sly fox on the team.
Ted Thompson has earned his reputation as a shrewd general manager, but he may have proven to be even more shrewd than many people realize when he added Harris to the roster.
Thompson signed Harris to the practice squad in October, before the season was halfway through. Harris wasn't promoted to the 53-man roster until December, when only five games remained in the regular season. That is a point worth mentioning because several other players remarked that Harris made an impression on the team immediately after he was signed to the practice squad.
"We picked him up on the practice squad, and from Day One he was there you could tell that he had a different gear," recalled Marshall Newhouse after this week's game. "When guys do that on the practice squad you're kind of skeptical at first because they might have fresh legs and it's late in the season. But he kept doing it day after day. He was running around on our defense, and he caught everybody's eye. You could just see it on film...he popped out."
Newhouse isn't the only member of the team that felt this way. His position coach knew they had something the first time Harris suited up.
"I watched him on the first day of practice," said Alex Van Pelt, the coach most responsible for getting Harris ready to contribute. "His foot speed, quickness, and ability to jump cut and get in and out of cuts and stop on a dime was immediate. This guy's got a little something to him. He's got a little wiggle and some burst."
So if the coaches and players all knew that he would be a good player right away, why did the team wait almost six weeks to promote him?
It is likely that Ted Thompson purposely waited until only five games remained before he made the move, even though he knew Harris could be a difference maker for the team.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement that governs the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) states that in order for a player to earn an "Accrued Season" he must be on an NFL roster for at least six games. This is an important distinction, as described on the NFLPA's website:
Earning an Accrued Season entitles a player to advance through the free agency system which governs a player’s negotiating rights once his contract has expired. In a capped year, a player with four or more Accrued Seasons becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent once his contract expires. A player with three but less than four Accrued Seasons when his contract expires becomes a Restricted Free Agent.
This means that since Thompson didn't sign him until only five games remained, Harris will still not have an Accrued Season under his belt when the season ends. In the event that Harris turns out to be a key player for the Packers, the team will be able to control his contract status an entire year longer, just by waiting a few extra weeks to promote him like they did.
It is not unusual for teams to promote players late in the season and take advantage of that rule. Jacksonville did exactly the same thing with Harris a year ago. But it must have been tempting for McCarthy, Thompson, and the Packers to use Harris sooner once they saw what they had. The team remained patient, and as it played out they have been able to work Harris into the lineup slowly and expand his role just in time for a playoff run. At this point it appears that Thompson's patience is being rewarded.
As long as Harris remains healthy, early indications are that he will be an important part of the team going into the future. Thanks to this shrewd move of Ted Thompson and the Packers management team, Harris could be around for a long time.
Photo Credit: Green Bay Press-Gazette