That might seem like an odd decision for a quarterback who didn't play in one of the power conferences, but there was a method to the madness for the record-setting Northern Illinois star. By being brought in instead as a "throwing quarterback," Harnish got to show his passing skills for four days instead of just one.
"I have a chance to prove my critics wrong," Harnish said at the Combine. "There's a lot of people out there that don't believe I have enough arm strength or am accurate enough or have great footwork because I was a shotgun quarterback, so I want to prove to those people that I can do those things, be comfortable, show that I have a good throwing motion and then just show my ability to interview and kind of let these coaches know what kind of person I am."
One of those coaches was Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, Packer Report has learned.
Harnish (6-foot-2) put up incredible numbers as a dual-threat quarterback for Northern Illinois. A 45-game starter, Harnish finished with 8,944 passing yards and 2,983 rushing yards, giving him 11,927 yards of total offense. That figure ranks third in MAC history behind Marshall's Byron Leftwich and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour. As a senior, he became the fourth player in FBS history to pass for at least 3,000 yards and rush for at least 1,000 yards, joining Texas' Vince Young, LeFevour and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick. He was also named one of 16 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athletes and was a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy — aka, the Academic Heisman.
For Harnish, playing at the East-West Shrine Game and competing at the Scouting Combine helped show how he stacks up behind the big-school quarterbacks. As a senior, Harnish had a monster game at Kansas (27-of-33 for 315 yards and two touchdowns, plus 89 rushing yards and three touchdowns) but struggled in a "home" game against Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago (14-of-24 for 164 yards with 8 rushing yards).
Harnish had a strong week at the Scouting Combine. He finished in the top seven among the quarterbacks in all the tests, and he threw the ball well during the quarterback drills last Sunday, as well as to the tight ends and defensive players as one of three "throwing" quarterbacks.
"I think being an athletic quarterback coming out of college is something I could definitely use to my advantage because the NFL's changing, and quarterbacks are being able to move out of the pocket more and more, and that's a good trend for me," he said. "But again, I still need to show that I can make the throws and do the things from under center and the different dropbacks to prove that I can play in this league."
To that end, Harnish has been working with Jeff Christensen, who runs a company called Throw It Deep in the Chicago area, and former NFL quarterback Turk Schonert. Christensen is Harnish's "technique guy" while Schonert is his "X's and O's" guru.
While the MAC is in the heart of Big Ten country, the standard of play is seen as light-years apart by some observers. However, Ben Roethlisberger, Leftwich, Chad Pennington, Charlie Batch and Charlie Frye starred in the MAC before taking their talents to the NFL. The Bears used a sixth-round pick in last year's draft to grab LeFevour, who finished the season on Jacksonville's practice squad.
"I think we showed a lot of people that, yeah, we can play on the national stage, but at the end of the day, people still think of myself as a MAC quarterback and a guy that didn't play against the best competition," Harnish said. "There have been a lot of great MAC quarterbacks and I'd like to be the next one."
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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.