First Adrian Peterson was place on the Commissioner’s Exempt List and later suspended for six games – leading to him only playing in one game during the season. Then rookie running back Jerick McKinnon was placed on injured reserve with a lower back injury. The Vikings even brought in Ben Tate for a couple weeks but ultimately released him.
The only running back that was consistently on the field for the length of the season for the Vikings was Matt Asiata. For that reason the Vikings signed free agent DuJuan Harris this offseason. At first it seemed like an interesting addition to the team because he seems to have a very similar game to Asiata.
If you look further into Harris’ skill set, however, there could be a reason why the Vikings signed him other than his skills as a running back. Harris has had experience on special teams as a defender and as a returner for the Green Bay Packers.
Viking Update took a look at multiple plays Harris made in 2014 in order to see what the Vikings’ new running back had to offer.
Play No. 1In this first play, Harris (26) catches the ball on the near side of the field. He the sees there are no openings for him on that side, so he works his way to the far side of the field. When he gets behind his blockers he is able to work his way up the field and get a return of 27 yards.
Not only was it a decent return, but you also saw Harris make a couple moves that gave him extra space, which allowed him to get more yards. The most obvious was when he was working his way to the far field and one of the New England Patriots players got in behind the blockers. Harris then faked moving up the field, which caused the defender to pause just long enough for him to get around and up field.
Harris may not have the same kind of explosion and top end speed that Patterson has, but he still has enough speed and enough talent to get around the edge and up field. Because of that, Harris would be able to put the Vikings offense in good field position when they start their drives.
Play No. 2Even though Harris has experience as a kick returner, he still makes mistakes from time to time. On this next play he makes one of those mistakes. There is not a lot of room for Harris to make a play, and instead of taking what the opposition is giving him he tries too hard to get to the outside and ends up getting less that what he could have if he just went straight ahead.
If you look closely there is actually a small hole right in the middle of the field that Harris could have gone through. Instead, he tries to bounce the ball outside to make a big play and gets brought down almost instantly. If he were to go straight ahead it is likely the hole would have closed in on him, but he would have gotten more yards than he ended up getting.
This is a problem that many returners have. They always want to make the big, flashy plays and get a touchdown every time they touch the ball instead of take what the opposition gives them. If Harris does end up as a returner for the Vikings, fans will have to deal with this kind of decision-making on occasion. And because he does not have elite top-end speed, he can’t make up for mistakes as well as Patterson can.
Play No. 3Not only is Harris able to make plays returning the ball on kickoffs, but he also is able to make stops on kickoffs. That’s exactly what he did in this next play, as he stopped what could have possibly been a touchdown by the Chicago Bears.
Harris was initially stopped by the Bears’ blockers, but he was able to get off the block and work his way to the middle of the field. Then he was able to get a hand on the ball carrier and bring him to the ground.
If Harris didn’t make that play, it was very possible the Bears’ returner would have broken it off for a touchdown. There was a lot of open field in front of him with no one in his way except the kicker.
Last year the Vikings had a lot of young and inexperienced players on special teams, which led to mistakes being made. Adding experienced players such as Harris to their special teams, the Vikings should be able to further improve their special teams, which should ultimately help out their defense, leaving opponents with farther to travel when they first get the ball.
Play No. 4The Vikings might be expecting Harris’ contributions to come mainly on special teams, but if they need to he does have the ability to step in as a running back and carry the ball. In this next play he gets an opportunity to carry the ball and shows off his field vision and strength.
When the ball is snapped, Harris gets the pitch and starts to his right. He then sees a hole open up on the inside and cuts back to his left and hits the hole. As the hole starts to close, he gets wrapped up but is able to carry the defender for a couple extra yards. This allowed him to get an 11-yard gain and a first down to help extend the drive and run down the clock.
The Packers were blowing out the Bears in this Week 10 victory, and that allowed Harris to come onto the field. It is not often that he saw the field as a running back, but showed that he was able to come on and do what he needed to, and he likely will play a similarly limited role in the Vikings offense.
At this point, this is all just speculation as to what Harris’ role on the Vikings will be. He will have to earn his way onto the field, and even onto the roster.
But if they do like what they see, it is likely that Harris will play an important role on the Vikings’ special teams units, both as a returner and as a veteran leader. But until things begin to play out in training camp it will be hard to see what the Vikings’ current plans are.
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