Harrell Out of Practice Again
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Just as Packers defensive end Justin Harrell appeared to be turning the corner on his injury-plagued career, he started having to sit out practice.
With starter Cullen Jenkins on a one-a-day schedule, veteran Johnny Jolly out with a sprained ankle and first-round pick B.J. Raji holding out, the 2007 first-round pick stepped into the starting lineup.
Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac went as far as to say Harrell had been doing an "excellent job" after Thursday morning practice last week.
Harrell, however, has barely practiced since. At first, coach Mike McCarthy said Harrell was being given a break because he had been taking so many reps.
On Tuesday morning, however, Harrell wasn't even on the practice field, and McCarthy said Harrell was being plagued by back spasms that are related to the back problems that required surgeries in April and August 2008.
"It's a little bit of a setback for him," McCarthy said.
That could be an understatement. Harrell has played in only 13 of 32 regular-season games during his first two seasons. During his rookie year, he was recovering from a torn biceps sustained as a senior at Tennessee and then sprained an ankle at midseason. Last year, he missed the first seven games while recovering from the second back operation and the final three games with a hip problem related to the back.
How much longer can the Packers afford to wait for player to whom they gave $8.1 million in guaranteed money as part of a five-year contract?
"This game is about accountability and durability and all of that, and that has to factor in," general manager Ted Thompson said. "Certainly, we think a lot of Justin and we think he has a bright future as an NFL player. He has had his share of bad-luck injuries and he's going to battle though something now, and he has battled through. We'll see, but at the end of the day, you have to be able to line up and do your part, and he's giving it a go."
It's a frustrating if not surprising turn of events for the player who wore No. 92 in honor of Reggie White while at Tennessee. Even Harrell, amid the optimism of a strong start to camp, sensed that this could happen.
"With a back, you never know," Harrell said on Thursday. "You can wake up one morning and it just doesn't feel like going. It's one of those things you can't control. Just take it one day at a time.
"It's always in the back of your mind. But the farther back you can put it, that's better for you. You can just go out there and worry about playing football and not really worry about the injuries. It's when you start playing not to get hurt, that's when you end up getting hurt. Just trying to go out there full speed and do what you can do."
Without Jolly, Harrell and Raji and with Jenkins' schedule limited, that's meant more opportunities for holdover Michael Montgomery and rookies Jarius Wynn and Ronald Talley.
"When (Harrell has) been out there, he's showed some things. He's made some progress when he's been able to stay out there," Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Obviously when he's not out there, it's hard to evaluate him and it's hard to see improvement when a guy's not out on the field. Hopefully, he'll be back out there sooner than later."
NOTES: Thompson said "there is nothing new to report" regarding Michael Vick. Thompson admitted last week that the Packers had at least researched the possibility of bringing in the quarterback. ... Thompson said there's been "continual dialogue" between the team and Raji's agent, David Dunn, but wouldn't say if there's been progress. ... K Mason Crosby, who's had an up-and-down camp, went 3 for 3 on kicks from 53 to 58 yards. ... Nick Barnett, rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered last season at Minnesota, is pointing to the third preseason game, though he still hasn't been cleared to practice. ... First-round pick Clay Matthews III (hamstring) was one of 18 players out for the morning session.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)