The 10th year cornerback (fifth with the Packers) has started 68 straight regular season games since coming to Green Bay, most of anyone on defense. He plays a position, cornerback, which is not easily replaceable by a second-teamer and in many cases is exploited by opposing teams in the absence of reliable starter.
That being said, the Packers have to be smart with the ailing Harris in the weeks ahead, the same way they have been smart with wide receiver Greg Jennings and running back Vernand Morency. In just the first month of the season, Harris has played through at least three notable injuries – a hyper-extended elbow suffered Week One against the Eagles, back spasms for at least the last three weeks, and most recently a hand that was stepped on in last Sunday's game against the Vikings. He has continued to play through all three injuries.
Harris was limited in participation at Wednesday's practice because of his back and has clearly played through some pain over the last couple of games. Though none of Harris' injuries look like they will necessarily force him out of the lineup, the Packers should be proactive and consider sitting him for a game or two – if not this week against the Bears, then next week against the Redskins. With the bye week to follow the Redskins game, Harris should be in better condition for the long haul, something the Packers must keep in mind.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Monday that Harris saw a back specialist recently who said his lingering issues should go away in two to three weeks. Harris was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.
Based on Harris' demeanor on the field the past couple of games, taking a couple of weeks off would probably help him recover. Harris, though, is a gamer and no doubt wants to play on Sunday night against the Bears in one of the biggest games at Lambeau Field in recent years. Because his injuries require more of a pain tolerance than they directly affect his performance, it would seem likely that he will suit up. He still has the health of his feet and legs, the biggest reasons he is one of the best cornerbacks in the league.
Without Harris, the Packers would likely turn to nickel back Jarrett Bush or Will Blackmon to start. Bush has shown good energy, but was targeted by the Vikings for a couple of big plays. Blackmon is playing with a cast on his hand for a thumb injury. The Packers have high hopes for both players, though, either would be a major drop-off from Harris.
All things considered, sitting Harris would be a tough decision for Mike McCarthy. Though the second-year head coach really relies on his medical staff to make such decisions, he has to realize that any lasting injuries to Harris could affect his team for more than just one or two games. To have Harris at or near 100% after the bye week by resting him is better than having him fight through the pain the entire year and risk compromising his long-term performance.
A year ago, Jennings came back too early from an ankle injury and was never the same for the rest of the season. But when the wide receiver encountered a hamstring injury before this year's season opener, the Packers took no chances. While he probably could have returned sooner, he sat out the first two games. When he returned, he made a game-winning touchdown catch against the Chargers and has been a valuable weapon on offense since.
Morency similarly has been brought along slowly. He entered Day One of training camp as a starter until suffering a knee injury in the first practice. While he was initially expected to miss most of training camp, he has been limited into the regular season due to what McCarthy called "unresolved soreness." Though Morency probably could have participated in some capacity over the first three games, he stayed on the inactive list. He made his first appearance of the season against the Vikings with the hope that he will be ready to go the remainder of the season at full strength.
To say that Harris' injury issues are related to Jennings' and Morency's would be unfair. Each injury varies in severity and has to be dealt with separately. Still, the big picture has to be the focus for McCarthy and the team's medical staff. Because Harris' back has been a persistent problem, it is not to be taken lightly. If time off will do Harris some good, then missing a game, even against the Bears, is the best decision for the team.
Matt Tevsh is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.