Harrell: No timetable for return

The defensive tackle, who has not practiced since April back surgery, is hopeful he can contribute this season and is ignoring his many critics.

Justin Harrell says he's getting closer to returning to action, but last year's first-round pick has no idea when he might contribute to the Packers' defense.

The defensive tackle needed surgery in April after injuring his back while lifting weights, then suffered a setback in his recovery just before training camp. The sight of Harrell wearing his green No. 91 jersey and yellow shorts has been a staple of training camp.

So, if you're keeping track, he missed all of the offseason program last year after being selected 16th in the 2007 draft because of a biceps injury sustained during his senior season at Tennessee. Because he was so far behind, he was inactive for the first four games of his rookie season, then sat out five games with an ankle injury.

Now, because of the back problem, he missed all of this offseason's practices and hasn't participated in training camp.

It's never good when your name and "draft bust" are mentioned in the same sentence, especially when your second NFL season hasn't kicked off.

"I just try to focus on getting better. I can't worry about what everybody's thinking," Harrell said Wednesday. "I just want to go out there and make sure I'm ready and get myself in good shape and just know that when they do release me, I'll be ready to go."

Asked if there was a chance he'd be able to play in the Sept. 8 opener against Minnesota, Harrell didn't sound optimistic. Nor was he sure when he'd be able to practice, or how long it would take him from the date of his first practice to get ready to play in a game.

"It's hard to say. It's going to be one of those things that you just got to go out there and see how it feels," Harrell said, adding later: "I'm doing everything that I can to make sure that when they do release me, I'll be out there, and not just be out there, but out there trying to contribute."

The Packers need Harrell to come back and be productive. Never mind that standout Ryan Pickett hasn't practice in camp because of a hamstring, Johnny Jolly has legal issues and there is a lack of depth. Harrell is a first-round pick. He needs to produce.

Asked if, because he's so far behind because of a lack of practice time, he'd be able to contribute this season, Harrell said: "I hope so. That's what I'm working and doing everything I'm doing for. It's because I'm expected to be out there and help this team."

Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com

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