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Discussion in 'Packer Fan Forum' started by wischeez, Oct 4, 2008.

  1. wischeez

    wischeez Cheesehead

    Dec 4, 2004
    Harrell working in obscurity to recover from injury

    Posted: Oct. 2, 2008

    Green Bay - If it weren't for his morning workouts down in a far corner of the Don Hutson Center, most of Justin Harrell's Green Bay Packers teammates wouldn't even know he was around.

    Each day, while the rest of the team is practicing, Harrell joins assistant strength coach Mark Lovat for an hour of movement drills aimed at preparing him for his return to the football field. He’s done before the meaty part of practice begins and generally showered and gone before his teammates are back to the locker room.

    “I don’t never see him,” nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. “I’ve seen him, like, once in a blue moon. He’s just working out. I saw him running. He looked pretty good.”

    It is Week 4 of Harrell’s six-week sentence on the physically unable to perform list. Exactly one week from Monday, he will be eligible to practice and be activated to the 53-man roster, although the Packers can take up to three weeks to decide whether to play him or put him on season-ending injured reserve.

    Harrell’s teammates might not see him much, but he’s around. In preparation for his return from the second of two back surgeries Aug. 25, Harrell, the team’s 2007 first-round draft choice, spends three to four hours a day working with trainers and strength coaches building himself back up so he’s physically able to play football again.

    Chances are Harrell will be cleared for practice come Oct. 13 and, if so, there will be no hesitation to get him back in the mix. The Packers are carrying three defensive tackles on their roster and if they don’t get some help soon, their starters are going to wear down.

    It would be nice to be able to say Harrell’s return won’t come with any expectations, but he’s a first-round pick and these aren’t the amateur ranks.

    “This league is about pressure,” defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn said. “That’s part of this business. You have to deal with it. There’s no way to make it look (otherwise). He just has to start wherever he is and get to where he needs to be as fast as he can, make as much improvement as fast as he can.

    “It’s the only way. We just have to find that starting point and go from there.”

    Nunn expects Harrell to have to play himself back into football shape, which won’t be easy, considering that until his workout Thursday, he hadn’t had shoulder pads on since the end of last season. His football résumé comes with an injury file an inch thick, from ankle and back injuries in the pros to biceps, ankle and leg injuries in college.

    At 6 feet 4 inches and 320 pounds, Harrell has tons of athletic talent but was of little help

    to the defense last year after being brought around slowly because of a continuation of the biceps injury. In his early playing time, his pads were too high, he had trouble tracking the ball and he didn’t offer much pass rush.

    “He was just doing OK,” Nunn said. “Then he really started improving right before he got hurt in practice (sprained ankle on Oct. 23). He was starting to take off. That was a huge setback. He had a legitimate ankle that was just a freak deal.”

    Since the back surgery, Harrell has taken turns working with assistant trainer Bryan Engel, strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson and Lovat. Engel takes Harrell through the rehabilitation exercises, Gullickson supervises his weight lifting and Lovat runs him until his legs are about to crumble.

    Harrell generally works out four hours a day. He is not allowed to take part in defensive meetings, so once he’s done with his physical work there isn’t much for him to do around the facility. Gullickson said Harrell was down in the dumps during training camp when his back prevented him from practicing, but since the last surgery — a minor procedure to repair a disc problem — he has been aggressive in his approach.

    “He’s much more positive that things feel right, that he’s going to be OK,” Gullickson said. “He’s been very conscientious. He’s putting in the time and effort. We’re all kind of holding our breath that he doesn’t have anything else that pops up, but from what we can tell he’s well on the way.”

    Harrell’s work in pads Thursday is part of that process. He did not do any contact work, but that will come soon enough. Nunn said he would have a program ready to get Harrell on the fast track for playing again, setting up individual drills to help get him in football shape once he’s cleared medically.

    Gullickson estimates that Harrell has 85% to 90% of his maximum strength back and is confident he’ll be physically ready in a short while. The next step is to find out whether Harrell can be anything close to the player general manager Ted Thompson expected when he drafted him 16th overall in ’07.

    More than a few people have thrown around the word “bust” with regards to Harrell, who was not in the locker room during the media access period and was unavailable for comment about his progress. Until he does something on the field, the doubters will be in full force.

    “He has a lot of ability,” Pickett said. “It takes time for a D-lineman to make his presence felt. I thought he started out good, but he had an injury that set him back. I thought he looked better than I looked my first year.

    “Whenever he gets back we’ll be counting on him. Whenever he gets back and healthy we’ll welcome him back happily. We’ll definitely look forward to it.”

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