Bay Packers running back DuJuan Harris (26) gets tackled by
Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Erin Henderson (50)
during the second half of an NFL wild card playoff football
game Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis.
GREEN BAY —
DuJuan Harris wasn't much of a car salesman. Didn't sell a single
one, in fact, in the week he was working at a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge
dealership in Jacksonville, Fla.
close a few times," he said. "I don't want to say I was
nervous, but people would ask me about the cars and I didn't know
much about it. I was just like, 'Man, I'm not going to sell the
That's OK. As
the Green Bay Packers have discovered — and the rest of the NFL is
quickly learning — the pint-sized running back is far better
suited for a job in the NFL.
the practice squad Dec. 1, Harris' speed, elusiveness and surprising
power have helped give the Packers the consistent run game they've
been trying to find all season. And after catching a team-high five
passes Saturday night, Harris also gives Aaron Rodgers yet another
option in what was already the NFC's deepest receiving game.
(12-5) play at San Francisco (11-4-1) on Saturday in an NFC
kind of a Transformer," Rodgers said last week. "There's
more than meets the eye with DuJuan. He's a very tough guy. He's got
great athleticism, agility; he makes some great jump cuts. ... He's
done some nice things for us.
to give him a lot of credit," Rodgers added. "He's learned
the offense the last few weeks and studied, obviously, and the
package for him is just going to continue to grow."
Jacksonville last season as an undrafted free agent out of Troy,
Harris spent most of 2011 on the Jaguars' practice squad. He played
his way onto the active roster by the end of the season, running for
42 yards on nine carries in Jacksonville's last five games. After
the Jaguars cut Harris at the end of training camp, he was picked up
But he was
with the Steelers only four days before being cut again, and he went
back to Jacksonville to wait for his next opportunity.
just working out, staying in shape and pretty much just
chilling," Harris said.
As the weeks
passed and his phone stayed noticeably silent, Harris decided he
needed to do something else. A friend had connections at a
Mercedes-Benz dealership, and got Harris an interview.
It was clear
immediately that wasn't going to be a good fit.
asked me if I would consider cutting my hair," said Harris,
whose dreadlocks reach all the way to the middle of his back.
"I was like, 'No, I know my career in football is not
put him in touch with the Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership, which has
hired a few other NFL players. When they told Harris they needed him
to take a drug test, he laughed.
like, 'Really, I have to go take a (urine) test? I'm clean. I don't
smoke or none of that. I'm clean. I've got to be clean to do
workouts for the NFL,'" Harris said. "But to get a job in
the real world, you have to do all of that other stuff. So, I did
He put on a
shirt and tie every day, too.
never used to coming to work in a shirt and tie unless it's for game
day," he said. "I enjoyed it."
After a week,
though, Harris got a call from the Packers. He was signed to the
practice squad Oct. 24.
like it was a test of my faith and I kept faith. When I got signed,
I knew it was time to stay," he said. "I had to come in
and get to work and do whatever I had to stay."
By the end of
his first week in Green Bay, the Packers knew they had a keeper.
is only 5-foot-8, he packs the power of a lineman. Listed at 208
pounds, his arms are massive and his legs even bigger. Combine that
with his speed and elusiveness, and the Packers' defensive players
found themselves clutching air any time they tried to bring Harris
tough to tackle in open space, one on one," said Alex Van Pelt,
Green Bay's running backs coach. "After about the first two or
three practices, you start to hear little mumblings in the back,
'Oh, this guy's got a little something to him.' It was our job to
get him up to speed within the system to get him out there on the
considering the struggles the Packers have had on the ground.
at quarterback and a laundry list of targets, Green Bay is assured
of having one of the NFL's most potent passing games. But teams need
balance, and the Packers didn't have anything close to it the first
half of the season. They cracked the 100-yard rushing mark just
three times in the first eight games, and were averaging about 3.7
yards per carry. They had two touchdowns — count 'em, two — on
the ground through the first 11 games.
Since Dec. 2,
however, the Packers are averaging 112 yards rushing per game.
They've scored nine touchdowns on the ground, including two in
Saturday's wild-card victory over Minnesota.
have a little bit to do with it, DuJuan Harris has something to do
with it," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of the improvement.
"I'm excited about what he's given us."
is only rushing for about 40 yards per game, he's averaging 4 yards
a carry. That's not Adrian Peterson-like production, but it's enough
to force defenses to not load up in the secondary.
He's also been
a brute in pass protection, and has sure enough hands that Rodgers
didn't hesitate to go to him.
doing a good job and we're pretty extensive with what we ask our
backs to do in pass protection," McCarthy said. "I'm very
pleased and impressed with his growth when his opportunity came so
late in the year and what he's been able to do over the last three
to four weeks."
appreciates the faith the Packers have in him, he doesn't feel as if
he's made it. Not after where he was only a few months ago.
more prepared for playoffs this time
Calif. — Andy Lee's nerves came on a full day before San
Francisco's playoff opener a year ago, not just leading up to his
first punt as is typically the case each game. Tight end Vernon
Davis was surprised at his butterflies stepping onto the NFL's big
stage for the first time, too.
most of the 49ers had never been part of a playoff game and were
suiting up for a rookie NFL coach. So much was made of the playoff
inexperience at the time. Now, it's just the opposite.
Jim Harbaugh's team is a playoff-tested bunch of veterans determined
to make this a special postseason run that goes one step further —
to the Super Bowl.
The NFC West
champion Niners (11-4-1) can move closer to that goal when they host
the Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoffs on Saturday night
in a rematch of the season opener won 30-22 by San Francisco in
September at Lambeau Field.
"A lot of
guys don't know what it's like until they get out there," Davis
said. "For me, last year was kind of like, 'Wow!' The energy,
the atmosphere was on a whole other level. If you don't know, you
might want to ask somebody so you won't be too surprised like I was.
I was very surprised at the stage. I had an idea, but until I got
out there, I was like, 'Wow.' I was nervous, more so than
Not that it
In a 36-32
upset of Drew Brees and the favored New Orleans Saints, Davis made a
leaping 14-yard touchdown catch under pressure on a perfectly thrown
ball from Alex Smith with 9 seconds remaining in the NFC divisional
playoffs. Davis had another spectacular outing in the NFC
championship game, catching touchdown passes of 73 and 28 yards in
the Niners' 20-17 overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion
New York Giants.
If only Davis
could do it again after a quiet year in which defenses keyed in on
him and made others in a revamped receiving corps beat them.
are definitely more of our players who have been through the
playoffs and can personally share with the first- or second-year
players who haven't been through the playoffs what that experience
was like for them," Harbaugh said. "They can personalize
it from conversation to conversation. I hope our young guys are
taking advantage of that."
So much was
different about this season. San Francisco never ran off with the
NFC West this time, yet still captured a consecutive division crown.
There were no long winning streaks — and the Niners even had a
frustrating home tie mixed in — and fewer victories than in
Harbaugh's Coach of the Year debut season. Yet, here they are again
as the NFC's No. 2 seed and fresh off a bye week to rest and
what to expect going forward," left tackle Joe Staley said.
"I think last year a lot of the players had to draw from the
older veterans. We all have playoff experience on this team. We know
what kind of atmosphere it's going to be."
coaches and the players have been fueled day in and day out ever
since that loss to the Giants last year to get this franchise back
to the Super Bowl at last. The Niners haven't been since winning a
championship after the 1994 season with Hall of Fame quarterback
Steve Young leading the way.
football gods have a different outcome for that last game than we
did," Harbaugh said. "Now is a new team, a team I feel
very good going into the playoffs with and understands the challenge
and the task that's up against us this time around."
expects to be less anxious, without the worries of added pressure
and expectations now that he has been through the playoffs once.
say last year I didn't know what to expect," Lee said. "It
was a little nerve-racking, a little more than I thought it would
be. This year, it's what we planned on, what it's supposed to be,
just another game — a big game at that — but the best way we can
approach it is it's just another game. There's a little bit more of
that feeling in it than building it up as much and getting nervous
little easier to go into it with a good, clean mind," Lee said.
"I felt a little nervous the day before the game. I never
really do that. But I don't feel that will be part of it this
Tarell Brown knows the 49ers learned plenty during last season's
playoff near miss, even some simple messages they will take into
this weekend's game.
Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in Week 1, plenty has changed for both
teams as they prepare to meet again.
got to treat it like a normal game — we understand that. It's no
pressure on us," Brown said. "We have another opportunity
to show the world we're one of the best teams in the league. We love
playing these big games."
Harbaugh said defensive lineman Justin Smith is expected back after
he partially tore his left triceps. "We look very much forward
to having him back in the lineup," Harbaugh said. ...
Harbaugh's father, Jack, told the former NFL quarterback last week
that he had been the victim of Ray Lewis' first career sack.
"My legend grows ... Ray Lewis' first sack," Jim Harbaugh
quipped. No, he doesn't recall the hit. ... Playoff tickets for
Saturday sold out in less than 3 minutes Monday.