Harrell optimistic about Sunday, his career

The oft-injured defensive tackle talks about his latest injury — a sore hip linked to his offseason back injury — and his future after a second consecutive no-impact season.

Say "peanut butter," and you inevitably think "jelly." Say "Justin Harrell," and you inevitably think "injured."

Harrell, who sat out the first two days of practice this week with a sore hip, was a full participant at Friday's workout. Coach Mike McCarthy listed him as questionable, meaning there's a 50 percent chance Harrell will be available for Sunday's game at Jacksonville.

The sore hip is the latest bugaboo in the defensive tackle's injury-wrecked two years in Green Bay.

"Justin Harrell is going through a tough spot right now with some medical issues, and that's really been the toughest obstacle for him to overcome," McCarthy said. "He's still a young player. He still fits into the scheme and is fully capable of doing all the things that we expect from him. But he's going through a tough medical spot right now."

Harrell, drafted with the 16th pick in the first round of the 2007 draft, says the team hasn't discussed shutting him down for the season, and he let out an uneasy laugh when asked if team doctors discussed more surgery. The sore hip, Harrell said, is one of the lingering effects of the offseason back injury that required two surgeries and basically has made this a lost season. An offseason away from the daily poundings absorbed on the football field will be the cure, he says.

"You go in and play a game, and the next week, it's hurting a little bit more, hurting a little bit more," Harrell said of the hip. "Finally, it got to the point where we needed to address it and make sure everything's still holding on pretty good."

McCarthy said Harrell "fought" through Friday's practice but didn't give any indication of whether Harrell would be on the 45-man game-day roster againstt the run-first Jaguars. Harrell was hopeful he'd play, as well.

Harrell wasn't healthy enough to participate in training camp this past summer and had his second surgical procedure in late August. After missing the first seven contests, Harrell recorded seven solo tackles and six assisted tackles in his first four games. During the last two games, when the hip became more problematic, Harrell played sparingly and didn't record a tackle. In his six games, he has neither a quarterback sack nor a pressure, even though he's played primarily on passing downs.

"I'd say he's a young, developing player," McCarthy said when asked if he had any idea what he has in Harrell. "I think he has a lot of football in front of him. He's had some unfortunate setbacks."

Harrell didn't want to blame his health history for his lack of production.

"I don't want to put my play on injuries," Harrell said. "Of course, if you've got pain, it's definitely going to impact your game. You're still out there competing, and if you're out there, you've got to give it your best."

Harrell seems to understand his career is reaching a critical juncture.

Early during his senior season at Tennessee, Harrell tore the biceps tendon in his left arm. The serious injury required surgery, costing Harrell all of the Packers' offseason program leading up to his rookie year. He was inactive for the first month of the season, then played in two games before an ankle injury sidelined him for five games. Harrell played in the final seven games (including playoffs), including three starts.

This year, Harrell showed up to offseason workouts out of shape and injured his back. His first practice since the NFC title game was in mid-October.

McCarthy routinely points to the offseason program as a key time for players to develop. Because of the injuries, Harrell hasn't had the benefit.

"It's going to be huge," Harrell said. "I just want to stay healthy and make sure I come back and do everything I can to make myself hold up for a season."

Fans — many of whom were unhappy the Packers used the 16th pick in the draft on a player who didn't show up in their mock drafts — have been quick to label Harrell as a bust. Harrell, though, thinks he can live up to expectations.

"I'm not giving up that goal," Harrell said. "They brought me here for a reason and I understand that, and it hasn't gone my way since I've been here. You've just got to keep working for that day when everything starts going your way."

Which means being healthy.

"Ever since the first (back) surgery, I've never been 100 percent," Harrell said. "It's one of them injuries that's going to heal in time, and right now, we don't have time."

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com.

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