The severe knee injury that ended Al Harris' season in the 10th game against San Francisco was the last blow in a one-two-three combination that decimated the Packers' secondary and crippled the team's chances to contend for the championship. With Pat Lee lost in training camp and Will Blackmon in Week 4 against Minnesota, the injury to Harris was just too much to overcome.
The proof is in the numbers. In the 10 games with Harris, the Packers allowed 191.8 passing yards per game. In the seven games without him, including the playoffs, the Packers allowed 239.3 passing yards per game.
So, the Packers enter free agency and the draft with a dire need to add another cornerback or two.
With that said, don't forget about Harris.
Harris turned 35 in December and is coming off his second serious injury in as many seasons — a spleen injury in 2008 ended his streak of 175 consecutive games and 83 consecutive starts.
At this time last year, there were major concerns on how Harris would adapt to the new scheme. The strength of Harris' game, of course, is his physical, in-your-face style. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers wisely incorporated many of the man-to-man principles used under past coordinators Bob Sanders and Jim Bates, and because of that, Harris was fantastic in 2009.
He had only one bad play all season — in the San Francisco game, when Harris let rookie Michael Crabtree get behind him for a 38-yard touchdown on third-and-20.
Other than that, though, it was the same old Harris.
In numbers compiled by Pro Football Reference, Harris allowed completions on just 48.9 percent of passes thrown his direction. Among cornerbacks who played at least half of the defensive snaps, only the Jets' Darrelle Revis (36.9 percent) and Cleveland's Brandon McDonald (48.5 percent) did better. Charles Woodson allowed 51.3 percent completions, Tramon Williams 60.0 percent and Jarrett Bush 62.2 percent.
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"You look at the body, first of all, and kind of shake your head," Harris' agent, Jack Bechta, told Packer Report on Friday. "He's a freak of nature. If anybody can come back from this at his age — I say this with all humility and unbiasedness, he's been getting better every year. He has a certain skill-set and he just keeps getting better. He's not getting faster but he's crafting his art even better every single year. There's no difference how he played this past year. It was a little different because of the scheme but he's still the exact same guy. Every year, he goes into Ted's office and says, ‘Judge me on my play, not my age.' And Ted does that."
Ted, of course, being general manager Ted Thompson. Harris is due to earn $2.5 million this season (as well as a $200,000 workout bonus). His contract expires after 2011, when his salary declines to $1.75 million (with a $200,000 workout bonus). Bechta intentionally gave Harris a declining salary ($3 million in 2009) so as not to price Harris out of a job.
In a league starved for competent cornerbacks — much less starting-caliber players — don't count out Harris. If you somehow missed his rehab video, check it out right here. Bechta, a principal founder of the National Football Post, said a new video should be posted next week.
In the first video, Joseph Caroccio, who is owner of and physical therapist at Atlantic Rehabilitation Center in North Miami Beach, Fla., called Harris' injury "probably one of the worst ... I had seen in my 20 years of experience." Harris said he tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee.
Common sense says that if Harris returns — a big if — he'll be merely a third or fourth corner. Harris, however, has made fools of those who have bet against him in the past. He didn't make Tampa Bay's roster as a rookie and spent the year on the practice squad, then was cut again the following training camp. Eyebrows were raised when then-GM Mike Sherman sent a second-round pick to Philadelphia in 2003 to get Harris. The spleen injury was supposed to end Harris' career, and the change in defensive schemes allegedly was going to end his run in Green Bay, too.
Just watch the video. Watch Harris bite a towel to fight through the pain. Think Harris is finished?
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.