Jennings Hopes To Repay Harris on Sunday

Al Harris, who is set to make his first start since 2009, returns to Green Bay this week as a member of the St. Louis Rams. Greg Jennings said he wouldn't be the Pro Bowl receiver he is today without those daily matchups against the savvy and physical Harris.

In 2007, Greg Jennings was the Green Bay Packers' second-round draft pick. By that time, Al Harris was in his 11th NFL season and finally on the verge of playing in his first Pro Bowl.

Now, Jennings is the Pro Bowl player. And he has Harris to thank for his development.

"We're looking forward to playing against him," Jennings told Packer Report on Wednesday as the Packers began preparations for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams. "For me individually, he's developed me and he was a part of my maturation process. Being a young player and a (developing) route-runner, he gave me some experience with an older, savvy vet that can pose some problems. He eliminated that for me when it came to the games because of what he posed to me in practice. He was definitely a part of my progress."

Harris, who picked off 14 passes with Green Bay from 2003 through 2009, is on the verge of making his first start since Nov. 22, 2009, when he suffered a career-threatening knee injury against San Francisco. His lengthy and grueling rehab forced the Packers to put Harris on the physically unable to perform list at the start of the 2010 training camp. He was activated from the PUP list on Oct. 19, 2010, but after three weeks of practice, the Packers waived Harris on Nov. 9. He wound up playing three games for Miami before going on injured reserve (hamstring), and has played in all four games as a reserve for the Rams this season.

"To be honest with you, when he came back, he wasn't 100 percent," Packers receiver James Jones recalled. "I couldn't even evaluate him because he wasn't 100 percent. Now that I see him on tape, it looks like he's running a 1,000 times better and breaking on balls."

The 36-year-old Harris is in his 14th season. Only Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber, who's in his 15th season, is more seasoned among NFL cornerbacks. While injuries have sabotaged the last few seasons for Harris, injuries are giving him a chance to be a full-time player again. Three of the Rams' top four cornerbacks are on injured reserve, making Harris the favorite to join Justin King in the starting lineup on Sunday.

"He's out there every day working like he always has," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, who was Harris' position coach when both were in Philadelphia, said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. "He's very much into it. He's become a student of the game and the system here is a little bit familiar to him because there are some similarities to what we did in Philadelphia. We've changed some things, but I think he got comfortable in it pretty quick."

What Harris has left in the tank — whether it's Play 1 or Play 60 — remains to be seen. Harris, speaking to reporters in St. Louis on Monday, said he's looking forward to facing the team that deemed him too old to contribute. Jennings, in turn, is looking forward to seeing what his old friend can do.

"He actually looks good on film," Jennings said. "It's hard to gauge guys on film. When you go out there and you get him in front of you and you have him moving left and right and vertical and horizontal, then you get a better gauge. After the game, when hopefully we beat up on him a little bit, then I'll have more to say."

Jennings' and Jones' admiration for Harris was evident given how he's battled back from the 2009 knee injury as well as the 2008 lacerated spleen.

"It says a lot about his character," Jennings said. "It says a lot about his drive, his work ethic. I think you've got to have a lot of self-discipline to come back from an injury — and not just that injury but the (spleen) he had the year before. It's phenomenal how he's able to bounce back from those injuries and still contribute to a team.

"He's one of those guys that's going to work, work, work, and he's going to play until he can't play anymore. He's let us know that. If there's breath in his body and there's some legs underneath him that can still run and some long arms that can still jam, he's going to do it."

It's that ability to jam — as well as what Jennings called Harris' "grown-man's strength" — that helped Jennings elevate his game to where it is today after a prolific career at Western Michigan. Obviously, Jennings didn't see that type of cornerback in the Mid-American Conference.

"It was tough," Jennings said of those early practices. "He was a part of my progression, my maturation as a young player to allow me to become the player that I am now because of what he did to me at practice. He tried to rough me up at practice. It was tough. It was one of those things where I would go up to him and be like, ‘I need that work today.' He'd give me every bit of 31 that you didn't want to see. He was a huge part of allowing me to be more comfortable against press and against a physical defender because of what he posed to me at practice."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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