With all the talk the past few days about Justin Harrell potentially returning this week to help out with a critically depleted defensive line, I remembered an old Joe Heller editorial cartoon from several years back.
In it, Jamal Reynolds is sitting on a locker room bench, counting piles of money. A coach comes in the door and, because of the injuries mounting on the defensive line, asks,"Are you ready to come in and play? We really, really need you!"
In the next frame, before Jamal has a chance to respond, the elderly janitor who was sweeping up behind him enthusiastically announces he's ready to go and play.
And now, here we are a few years later, and another first round defensive lineman who has rarely seen the field is now getting our hopes up that he might come in and help out.
I'm not holding my breath.
Yes, we could use just about anybody right now. Injuries to Cullen Jenkins, Michael Montgomery, and now Ryan Pickett have made the Corey Williams trade seem somewhat regrettable. I wonder if that janitor is still employed by the Packers had has kept up with his core training.
Justin Harrell was drafted 16th overall by Ted Thompson in the 2007 draft from Tennessee. However, a torn bicep kept him out of his final ten games his final year. Since then, he's been a never-ending tale of injuries and excuses.
Many excuses were made by those that defended the pick. Harrell "would have been a top five pick" had he not been injured. It was important to have taken him at #16 (instead of trading down), because Denver might have taken him a few picks later.
But, no matter how we justify it, the pick is now reeking of "bust". Thompson's first two picks that year, in fact, came off injuries in their last year of college (Brandon Jackson was the other).
Harrell had a very nondescript season last year, missing five games due to an ankle injury. This year, he has spent the first six weeks on the PUP list with a back injury that was supposed to have been healed up by training camp. He didn't pass his physical at any time this preseason, which is what landed him on the PUP. Robert Nunn, the Packers defensive line coach, indicated that even when Harrell is finally fully healthy, he's still going to need time to get into playing shape.
I'm not going to count on it. The Packers have a three week window to activate him, and from all reports, its pretty doubtful it will be in time for the Colts game, which is unfortunately when they need him most.
The one thing that has stood out to me has been the undertones from some of the local beat guys on The Fan. When talking about Harrell, they've noted that he has done most of his rehab away from the rest of the team, in private. In fact, Chris Havel mentioned last week that he was mildly shocked that they might have access to actually talk to him, apparently a rarity.
Now, this is just some local beat guys perhaps venting a bit, but it does raise my eyebrow. The Packers appear to be kind of secluding Harrell for whatever reason. I don't know how involved he is during team meetings and such, but my guess is he's not out on the practice field much, even as an observer.
The only other time I've heard of secluding a player and rehabbing him privately was when that was the plan this past summer when Favre rejoined the Packers.
When you combine Harrell's slow recovery, his slow skill development, his lack of conditioning, and the way the Packers are quietly rehabbing him, it doesn't bode well for him playing much this year, at least effectively.
Is Harrell just another Jamal Reynolds? Is this going to be the black mark against Ted Thompson's drafts as Reynolds was for Mike Sherman? It's far too soon to tell, but the early polls aren't too optimistic.
Despite a strained shoulder, Aaron Rodgers has played through pain the past few weeks and done well. Ryan Pickett, the defensive tackle that Harrell would hope to replace due to injury, has already come out and said he plans to play next Sunday, despite a strained tricep and still awaiting clearance from the medical staff.
Harrell needs to take a good, hard look at these pros, and realize it is that kind of toughness that it going to make it or break it in the NFL. I know his injuries were more severe than a strain, but it is confusing why this particular back injury is taking such a long time to heal and rehab.
I hope he does come back (eventually), and plays his heart out and proves me wrong. Nothing would make me happier than to see him live up to his potential as a strong run stopper with a knack for collasping the pocket on passing plays.
But, I'm not going to hold my breath. Lessons learned from Jamal Reynolds, I guess. I have a strong feeling we'll be seeing Alfred Malone activated from the practice squad soon. I have a feeling he would give 110% towards this opportunity.
What a welcome sight that would be.