One bright spot: Justin Harrell

The Packers' much-maligned first-round pick impressed PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence with his strength and mobility, but he was flattened too often by double teams.

If you think Brett Favre looked miserable on Sunday, think about what I went through on Friday while spending a couple hours huddled around the television watching the Packers getting their lunch handed to them for the third time this week by the Chicago Bears.

Nonetheless, I found a shred of good news from Sunday's drubbing at Chicago: Justin Harrell got tons of meaningful playing time.

The Packers' much-maligned first-round pick, seen only on milk cartons during the first three months of the season, made his first career start against the Bears. As you'd expect from a 35-7 blowout in which the Bears rushed the ball well enough, consistently enough, to turn Favre into the Ice Man, Harrell fell way short of a stud performance.

On the other hand, he flashed enough to show it's way too early to call him a draft bust.

Harrell does a lot of things. One of them is good, and that's his ability to skate up and down the line of scrimmage to get into the action. For a 310-pounder, Harrell's got tremendous lateral movement. Any big guy can suck up blockers, but it takes a guy with athleticism to line up at right defensive tackle and help string out a run off offensive right guard all the way to the sideline.

Here's another thing Harrell does, though this isn't as flattering. If you're of my age, you might remember crawling under your desk during air-raid drills (as if that was going to keep you safe from a Russian nuke). Well, Harrell's play against double teams was reminicent of that. Several times, he looked like a bug going up against a semi.

Left one-on-one, though, Harrell held his own. Now, there's a big difference between holding your own and making plays, but Harrell is so powerful and he generally stays low enough that he's almost impossible to move out of the point of attack.

Those opposite traits were evident on the first two plays of the game. On first down, Harrell nimbly moved several yards to his left to get in on the tackle. On the next play, though, Harrell was flattened by a double team as the Bears gained 8 yards for a first down.

If nothing else, he's a handful on short-yardage and goal-line plays. When the Bears were thwarted after getting a first-and-goal inside the Packers' 10-yard line in the first quarter, twice he was part of big pile-ups at the point of attack and once he showed his lateral mobility to make the play. On a fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, Harrell was the only Packer to penetrate the line of scrimmage, but he was unable to make the play.

Most of the time, Harrell was a non-factor on passing plays. Some of that was due to the Bears' run-heavy offense catching the Packers' defense by surprise whenever they decided to pass. Some of it is because Harrell simply doesn't have much experience.

Thus, it was a surprise when, in the third quarter, Harrell blew by his blocker with a spin move and forced Kyle Orton to pass the ball before he was ready. Harrell was both held and victimized by an illegal hand to the face, but no infractions were called.

Before making a rash assessment on Harrell, it's important to recall that he barely played during his senior season at Tennessee because of a torn biceps. That injury slowed him throughout the Packers' offseason program. Then, because of the Packers' depth up front, he played in only two of the first 12 games. Thus, this is a guy who just hasn't played much the last two years.

Remember, defensive tackle Johnny Jolly looked like nothing more than the 53rd player on last year's roster during his rookie season. Yours truly suggested Ted Thompson hand Jolly a pink slip when he failed his pre-training camp conditioning test this past summer. Instead, Jolly blossomed into an integral performer, and the Packers' run defense hasn't been the same since he sustained a season-ending injury.

So, give Harrell some time. Certainly, you'd hope a first-round pick could provide an immediate impact, but Harrell is too big and too athletic to dismiss as the next Jamal Reynolds.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


Packer Report Top Stories