PHOENIX – The question is not if DuJuan Harris is going to have a role in the Green Bay Packers’ offense next season. The question is only how big of a role the running back will have.
“Oh, he’s going to play for us next season,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said during Wednesday morning’s NFC coaches breakfast at the annual NFL Meetings at the Arizona Biltmore hotel. “That’s his responsibility, if he wants to be the starter.”
After his promotion to the 53-man roster from the practice squad in December, Harris carried 34 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season, then added 28 carries for 100 yards and two more TDs in the playoffs. He also caught two passes for 17 yards in the regular season and seven passes for 64 yards in the playoffs.
While his 5-foot-8 height raises some questions about whether he can be an every-down back, McCarthy wants more production from his running game in order to help quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the passing game, and he’s going to give Harris a chance to show he can deliver. While McCarthy said the offense has made some scheme changes in the run game, it’s about more than altering the plays.
“Our running backs got to get better. It’s as simple as that,” McCarthy said. “And, our run-blocking unit needs to improve, too. Aaron does an excellent job of keeping us in favorable situations to run the football, and we need to produce better. You can’t cut it any differently. It’s not one guy. It’s not one position. It’s something that we’ve got to do a better job of and I feel like that the changes that we made will play to the strengths better than they have in the past as we move into this season.”
In fact, after watching Cedric Benson, Alex Green, James Starks and Harris all get shots to be the lead running back, McCarthy said his only regret about Harris is that he didn’t have him on the roster sooner.
“I wish we would have had DuJuan earlier,” McCarthy said. “He was a young man that we were just getting ready to try to put in the game. Everybody’s like, ‘Just put him in there!’ Well, hell, you put him in there, there aren’t too many runs in our offense where we can’t go to a pass. (And if the play is changed), now he’s protecting for Aaron Rodgers. That’s why there’s a lot of stress schematically and responsibility-wise on our running backs, and that’s not going to change because of our quarterback.
“Once he got ready, I felt great about the way DuJuan finished the season. (I’m) looking forward to having him for an offseason and look for good things for him.”
As for the others, McCarthy said, “James Starks, he’s got to stay healthy. Alex Green’s not quite back from his knee surgery. You could see Alex wasn’t quite the same and the guy fought through it all year. He’s tough, he’s just what you want but he wasn’t 100 percent. Cedric Benson, he played well, was doing some good things and then he got hurt.”
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