DuJuan Harris has shown he's got some wheels.
Between his release from the Pittsburgh Steelers and his signing onto the Green Bay Packers' practice squad, Harris tried to sell wheels.
"I had a friend that helped me out," he said. "He had connections around the city of Jacksonville. First, I went to a Mercedes dealership and talked about working there but it didn't work out. They asked me if I would consider cutting my hair. I was like, ‘No, I know my career in football is not done.' If I was at the end of my career and actually needed to work and that was my last resort, then, yeah, I wouldn't mind cutting my hair but that wasn't the case at all. So, ‘No, I'm not going to cut my hair.' That's not the reason why I didn't get the job, though.
"So, I spoke to another good friend of mine. He details cars and was getting his car looked at at a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership. He gave them the word and they said, ‘Yeah, tell him to come down.' So, I came down and they pretty much hired me right on the spot because they have a couple other guys that used to play football working there. They told me I had to take a (urine) test and I was 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.' But to get a job in the real world, you have to do all of that other stuff. So, I did it and I had to wear a shirt and tie. I was never used to coming to work in a shirt and tie unless it's for game day. I enjoyed it. I was there for a week and it was pretty fun."
Harris rushed for 42 yards in five games as an undrafted rookie last year for the Jaguars. He was released during camp, claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh and released again a few days later. He was out of football for almost two months before signing to the practice squad on Oct. 24. At the time, it seemed like he would be with the team only to fill a role on the practice field. For years, the Packers, because of their premium on pass protection and their fondness of powerful north-south runners to succeed in bad-weather games on chewed-up late-season playing surfaces, had turned a blind eye to short running backs with jitterbug running styles.
At 5-foot-7 1/4 (the Packers list him at 5-8), Harris sticks out like a sore thumb in a stable of backs consisting of James Starks (6-2), Ryan Grant (6-1), Alex Green (6-0), John Kuhn (6-0) Cedric Benson (5-11) and Brandon Saine (5-11). Harris, however, would be good practice fodder with games coming up against the Giants (5-9 1/2 Ahmad Bradshaw), Jaguars (5-7 Maurice Jones-Drew) and Cardinals (5-7 LaRod Stephens-Howling).
Instead, Harris showed intriguing potential. He might be short but he's not small at a muscular 203 pounds. In car lingo, he can go from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye.
"Probably the first week of practice and watching him work against our defense," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said on when he realized he might have a promising talent on his hands. "You could see his ability to get in and out of cuts, his quickness and the protection part of it, for a smaller guy, he's stout. He stood out right away."
On Dec. 1, Harris was promoted to the active roster. A few days later, he carried the ball seven times for 31 yards. His first touch was an 11-yard run in which he exploded through safety Ricardo Silva at the end of the play. Early in the fourth quarter, he scored the go-ahead touchdown when he burst through a hole for a 14-yard run.
"He's fearless," Van Pelt said. "He runs quickly through the hole and there's not a lot of dodging going on. He showed that the first carry he got out here when we tossed him the ball against Detroit and he ran over the safety. I think he's got a good mix of speed and toughness and the ability to run through arm tackles. Really, we haven't seen the quick move where he makes a guy miss in space but we've seen it on the practice field."
On Sunday, less than 10 weeks after joining the practice squad, Harris was the Packers' go-to running back in a critical game at Minnesota. The Packers lost but Harris played an outstanding game with 14 carries for 70 yards and two receptions for 17. Against a rugged Vikings defensive front, Harris gained yardage on every attempt. Of his 87 total yards, 57 came after contact, according to ProFootballFocus.com. The Packers value ball-security and pass protection above running ability. Van Pelt said Harris has "ginormous" hands to prevent fumbling and he stuck the two blitzers he faced against the Vikings.
"I think he's kind of a Transformer; there's more than meets the eye with DuJuan," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "He's a very tough guy. He's got great athleticism, agility; he makes some great jump cuts. He had a couple really, really good runs in the game that could have been losses for us, and a couple runs where he ran through arm tackles, broke tackles, yards after contact. He's a little guy, but he's tough. Again, another guy we didn't have here at the beginning of the season -- a guy on the practice squad, played his butt off, got activated. He's done some nice things for us. You have to give him a lot of credit. He's learned the offense the last few weeks and studied, obviously, and the package for him is just going to continue to grow."
If Harris keeps producing, he can put that second career as a car salesman on hold. During his week on the job, he didn't sell any cars, though he said he got close a few times.
"Yes," Harris said with a laugh when asked if he's a better running back than salesman, "way better."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.