On Thursday night, the Green Bay Packers’ three young running backs basked in the thrill of victory.
For almost four months, Alonzo Harris, John Crockett and Rajion Neal battled to be the team’s No. 3 running back. The blowout win over the Saints was their final exam. The wait for their grades would be the equivalent of eternity — a day and a half.
“Probably bite my fingernails down until they’re raw,” Crockett said of how he’d spend the time waiting for Saturday’s final cuts.
“Man, just stay busy. Try to stay busy, busy, busy, busy, busy,” Neal said when asked the same question.
Harris put his career in the Man Upstairs’ hands.
Literally and figuratively.
“I feel pretty good right now,” Harris said. “Just hopefully everything turns out for the best. I can’t say who’s on top, who’s low right now. Only God knows right now. He’s the only one who knows.”
In somewhat of a surprising move, God — aka, Ted Thompson — went with Harris on Saturday. Thompson picked the big man with the broken hand over Neal, the excellent receiving threat, and Crockett, whose closing argument included 91 total yards and a touchdown against the Saints.
Harris was injured during a pass-protection drill before the Aug. 29 game against Philadelphia. He missed that game, which he thought put him behind Neal and Crockett entering the preseason finale. With his right hand enveloped in a club cast, Harris gave it his best shot against the Saints. He carried the ball 13 times for 41 yards — his 3.2-yard average well behind Crockett’s 5.3 and Neal’s 4.0 — but showed toughness and focus by running hard and not fumbling.
“The thing I didn’t want to do was drop it or put it on the ground,” Harris said. “I focused on ball security and took pride in that throughout the couple days of practice we had this week. I worked on it a lot. I had to focus on ball security because that’s definitely a big minus in this program. Missing blocking assignments and right behind that is protecting the football. I could not do that. That would have destroyed me.”
It might have destroyed Neal. On the final play of the first quarter, he caught a short pass from Scott Tolzien and was immediately stripped.
“It was a quick pass put on me that I caught and tried to just dart forward,” Neal said. “Just me bringing it across my body to protect it, it just squirted out. Hopefully it won’t bite me in the butt too bad.”
Crockett missed the start of training camp due to an ankle injury sustained during the minicamp. He started slowly but was playing his best at the end of the preseason. Of Green Bay’s seven longest plays against the Saints, Crockett had three of them — receptions of 22 and 15 yards and a 15-yard touchdown run.
“You really never know what to look for or what to expect,” said Crockett, who won FCS national championships in all three seasons at North Dakota State and was a captain of the East-West Shrine Game. At the end of the day, I had an awesome opportunity, had an awesome place to play in, had a first-class organization to be a part of. Now you let the chips fall where they may. You had a training camp where you had a lot of ups and you had a lot of downs. It’s a blessing to have this opportunity.”
For Harris, the blessing continues. The Packers clearly see something in him, considering the injury and two dropped passes at Pittsburgh. At 237 pounds, he’s got the size the Packers covet. He used that thunder to average 2.7 yards after contract per rush — compared to 1.82 for Neal and 1.77 for Crockett, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Even playing one-handed against New Orleans, 28 of his 37 rushing yards came after contact, according to PFF.
“It’s being a ballplayer,” Harris said. “It’s a minor thing in my head. I didn’t want to make that big of a deal about it. It happened but I had to come out there and make plays. I wasn’t trying to take a day off. It happened for a reason. I had to continue to push and progress and get better.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.