Running game shows signs of life : Packers Insider

Running game shows signs of life

December 11, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~The Green Bay Packers could be heading down the same road with their running game that they were on in 2010.

On the way to winning Super Bowl XLV, they didn’t find their primary running back until late in that regular season. James Starks, then a rookie who had spent most of the season trying to come back from an offseason hamstring injury, made his regular-season debut in Week 13, and his 73-yard performance that day against the San Francisco 49ers ultimately thrust him into a starting role throughout the playoffs.

Perhaps the same thing happened in Week 14 of this season. Nearly two years to the date after Starks’ debut, the Packers unveiled another running back. In Sunday’s come-from-behind victory over the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field, little DuJuan Harris, the 5-foot-8 former practice squader, gave the Packers’ running game a boost with 31 yards on seven carries, including the go-ahead, 14-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Though he only played seven snaps, he got the ball every time he was on the field.

“Like to get him in the game more,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “I’d like to do more with him.”

Coach McCarthy would like to get more touches for DuJuan Harris

Signed to the practice squad on Oct. 24 — two weeks after the Packers placed Cedric Benson on the injured reserve/designated to return list because of a foot injury — Harris quickly impressed the Packers with his speed. He was added to the roster on Dec. 1, shortly after it was determined Benson wouldn’t return this season. Harris, who had been out of football since the Pittsburgh Steelers cut him following the preseason, was active but did not play on Dec. 2 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Then, last week when the Packers re-signed Ryan Grant, one of their primary backs from 2007-2011, it seemed unlikely that Harris would have a role. Instead, Harris actually started the game, making his Packers debut by picking 11 yards on a toss sweep.

“Excited about 26,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the game, referring to Harris by his jersey number. “I think he brings a little something extra there. He’s been doing it in practice. Give him a lot of credit. I’ve seen a lot of guys over my eight years who’ve come in, been practice squad players, showed up, practiced really well, got an opportunity and made some plays. He’s one of them.”

That’s not to say Harris will become as involved as Starks did in 2010, when he opened the playoffs by rushing for 123 yards in the wild-card game against Philadelphia. McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements both said they plan to use all three of their available halfbacks — Harris, Grant (who carried once for 13 yards against the Lions) and Alex Green (13 carries for 69 yards against the Lions). Also, Starks still could return this season after sustaining a knee bruise on Dec. 2.

“I think it’s a great benefit just to have a combination of three different running styles,” McCarthy said. “It’s something we started on (Monday), how we can better utilize their talents.”

In Green and Grant, the Packers have a pair of more traditional power runners suited for their inside and outside zone plays. Harris, however, is a change of pace given his speed and shiftiness. But he did display some power on his first carry, when he ran over Lions safety Ricardo Silva at the end of the run.

“He’s a guy who, because of his size, probably throughout his life he’s looked to make things happen when things aren’t there,” Clements said. “He has good quickness. Get him outside, and he has good speed. But he’s also strong enough and stout enough to run inside, so we’re not going to limit him in that way.”

There have been signs of life in the Packers’ running game of late. A week before posting 140 yards rushing against the Lions, the Packers put up 152 yards on the ground against the Vikings. Though they still ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing yards per game, checking in at No. 18 (107.7 yards per game) through Sunday’s game, it’s the first time they have moved inside the top 20 this season. After Week 8, they ranked 26th out of the 32 NFL teams in that category.

An indication of how far they have come in the running game was Sunday’s seven-play, 59-yard touchdown drive that Harris capped with his 14-yard scoring run. All seven plays were runs (four by Green, one by Grant and the last two by Harris), and according to Clements most, if not all of them, were called runs and not audibles based on what Rodgers saw at the line.

Perhaps the renewed commitment to the running game will force opposing defenses to cut back on the high volume of two-high safety looks the Packers have seen this season, which has been one factor in why the passing game hasn’t been as prolific as last season.

“Teams don’t like to get run on,” Clements said. “So they do things to try to stop the run, and usually one of the things they do is bring a safety down. You look at some teams with great running backs like Adrian Peterson, that’s all they see is one high. If we continue to run the ball well, maybe that will happen. If they want to stay two high and let us run the ball, we’ll do that as well.”

Full story here

Help Us! Comment about this Packer Article

This is a community of fanatical Packer fans. Please tell us what you think about this post....