So as certain as Harrell with have a spot on the team being a first-round draft choice, it seems even more certain that he will spend much of the year on the sideline. He is just not good enough right now to supplant others at his position.
What all this spells out is not that Harrell was a bad draft pick, but rather that he was a wasted one – at least for this year. Just as Packers' fans rained boos upon general manager Ted Thompson on day one of the draft, they really have nothing more to cheer about after seeing Harrell in training camp other than the promise that he might be dominant some day.
Everyone knows that the Packers could have used another offensive weapon in the first round of the draft, but for whatever reason, it did not work out. Instead, they got a defensive player with that pick that has nowhere to play because the competition ahead of him is just too good – and it looks like it might be at least that good for years to come.
Harrell is improving, so says defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn. He is a humble, good kid fitting the McCarthy's motto of finding "Packer People." His preseason game action has been limited because of his conditioning, but he says he definitely is in football shape now and ready to go. His biggest test will come tonight in the preseason finale at Tennessee. Not only will it be a homecoming of sorts (returning to his home state), but he is expected to see his most extensive action of the preseason.
"We should get a good number of reps not wanting to get any of the veteran guys hurt as we get close to the season," said Harrell. "Us rookies should get a good number of snaps. I feel pretty good right now. I could play 30 or 40 snaps if I need to."
Tonight's game will give the best indicator as to what the Packers can expect from Harrell this year if he can ever find a way into the defensive tackle rotation. He could see action for over two quarters, and if he is progressing, he should dominate the backup units of the Titans.
Harrell said the coaches have not told him anything as of yet about what his role will be on the team this year. But even if he continues to improve, he will still be a likely candidate for the inactive list on game days. Depending on the preparation each week, there is simply no spot for him. Ryan Pickett and Corey Williams have done nothing to lose their starting positions at tackles while Cullen Jenkins has found a niche moving from end to tackle in specific situations. The Packers also have no reason at this time to move Harrell ahead of super-sub Colin Cole or a much-improved Johnny Jolly. That puts Harrell as the No. 5 defensive tackle. Only injuries will give him a chance to move up because those ahead of him seem as hungry and fit as ever to make an impact.
"I'm just trying to control what I can," said Harrell of trying to crack the rotation. "I'm just going to go out there and work hard, trying to improve in areas I need to improve in and put it all in the coaches hands and let them decide how much they want me to play."
That the Packers list Harrell as a starter on the team's depth chart has to be some kind of joke or motivational tool for other players. If not, they are doing a disservice to those who have worked hard and earned their position. Harrell is not quite ready for prime time yet, which the Packers' brass had to know coming into the draft. Not only is he raw, but he also missed basically the entire football season last year at Tennessee with a torn biceps tendon.
Harrell has scaled a few hills so far, but has a big mountain to climb if he wants to see the field. There is really no reason to give up on him just yet, and he is definitely not a Jamal Reynolds, but there are many more reasons to believe his contributions will be minimal as a rookie.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.