"If you just stand around and watch him throw, sometimes it might not look pretty," Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said last week. "But when he gets in there, he usually knows where to go with the ball and gets it there and makes a quick decision and is accurate."
That was evident during the Packers' preseason games against Arizona last week and Indianapolis on Friday night. In two series against the Cardinals, he completed 7-of-9 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown that capped an 11-play, 84-yard drive. After four inept drives against the Colts in which he failed to gain even one first down, Harrell completed 9-of-13 passes for 68 yards, leading the offense on an 11-play, 73-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to tie the game and the winning field goal as time expired.
"Well you never want to be in (fourth)-and-whatever it was," Harrell said after the game of the fourth-and-10 play from the Colts' 11. "It was long. I knew we pretty much needed to get a touchdown. I felt a little pressure and scrambled out. A lot of times in that situation, that's going to happen, like in Atlanta last year. Aaron (Rodgers) did the same thing on fourth down (to force overtime). You know when it's fourth and you've pretty much got to score, a lot of times it's going to turn into a scramble drill and you just have to make a play. I felt a little pressure, I made that one guy miss, and the receiver (Ryan Taylor) did a great job of doing the scramble drill. I saw a line open and I just hit him."
Harrell did a lot of "just hitting them" during a prolific career at Texas Tech. His feel for the game comes from his upbringing. His father, Sam, is a legendary football coach at Ennis (Texas) High School. As a youngster, Harrell remembers following his dad to the school and playing catch with his older brother, Zac, in the fieldhouse until the varsity practice was over.
"We talked football a lot," said Harrell, whose younger brother, Clark, plays quarterback at Abilene Christian. "My grandpa, who was also a coach, he just wanted to go throw the ball around in the backyard. As we got older, he loved to come watch. He was usually pretty quiet but he would always write down what he thought was good or bad about our high school games. My dad, we talked about football a lot. We'd play as long as we could until we got worn out. Then we'd sit in his office and watched film with him. But when we got home, he was always good about if we wanted to talk about football, we would, and if we didn't, he was fine with that."
Harrell left Texas Tech ranked first in NCAA history in touchdowns and completions and second in passing yards. Despite his gaudy numbers, Harrell went undrafted in 2009 and didn't sign his first professional contract until joining the Packers on May 20, 2010.
"We're very happy with him," Clements said. "He came late to us in the spring last year so he really didn't have a whole lot of time to get ready for the season. We liked what we saw and then he did well in camp. He was just a great addition for the quarterback room, too. All those guys get along very well. Now, he's more comfortable in the system, he knows it better and he's, consequently, performing better. Obviously, he has a knack in the passing game. That's what he did in college. And he was more in the shotgun; that's where he is most comfortable but he's gotten better under center doing the things we need him to do under center. He has talent and he can throw the ball and he's picking up the offense. We're happy to have him."
Quarterback was in Harrell's blood from an early age. Harrell, who was born in 1985, grew up idolizing Joe Montana and wanted to play quarterback because of the former 49ers superstar. Montana wasn't blessed with a strong arm, either, but he became one of the deadliest passers in NFL history because of his almost-superhuman feel for the game.
Friday's game certainly wasn't Super Bowl XXIII. Harrell was just 3 when Montana led the 49ers the length of the field to stun Cincinnati in the final moments, but the frantic finish at Indianapolis certainly showed Harrell can deliver when it counts.
"That's not always the case," Clements said of Harrell's knack for playing better in games than in practice. "You have clearer vision sometimes in the game because in practice guys aren't at the same speed as they are in the game and they're playing a little bit higher. A lot of times in a game, things are clearer than in practice. Everyone picks it up a notch and he's one of those guys that does well in those settings."
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