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NFL: Little running back coming up big for Green Bay

Green Bay running back DuJuan Harris runs during the second half of the Packers' 24-10 NFC wild-card playoff football game victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday in Green Bay, Wis.
Green Bay running back DuJuan Harris runs during the second half of the Packers' 24-10 NFC wild-card playoff football game victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – DuJuan Harris wasn’t much of a car salesman. Didn’t sell a single one, in fact, in the week he was working at a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership in Jacksonville, Fla.

“I came close a few times,” he said. “I don’t want to say I was nervous, but people would ask me about the cars and I didn’t know much about it. I was just like, ‘Man, I’m not going to sell the cars.’”

That’s OK. As the Green Bay Packers have discovered – and the rest of the NFL is quickly learning – the pint-sized running back is far better-suited for a job in the NFL.

Elevated from the practice squad Dec. 1, Harris’ speed, elusiveness and surprising power have helped give the Packers the consistent run game they’ve been trying to find all season. And after catching a team-high five passes Saturday night, Harris also gives Aaron Rodgers yet another option in what was already the NFC’s deepest receiving game.

“He’s kind of a Transformer,” Rodgers said last week. “There’s more than meets the eye with DuJuan. He’s a very tough guy. He’s got great athleticism, agility; he makes some great jump cuts.”

Signed by Jacksonville last season as an undrafted free agent out of Troy, Harris spent most of 2011 on the Jaguars’ practice squad. He played his way onto the active roster by the end of the season, running for 42 yards on nine carries in Jacksonville’s last five games. After the Jaguars cut Harris at the end of training camp, he was picked up by Pittsburgh.

But he was with the Steelers only 4 days before being cut again, and he went back to Jacksonville to wait for his next opportunity.

“I was just working out, staying in shape and pretty much just chillin’,” Harris said.

A friend had connections at a Mercedes-Benz dealership, and got Harris an interview.

It was clear that wasn’t going to be a good fit.

“They asked me if I would consider cutting my hair,” Harris said. “I was like, ‘No, I know my career in football is not done.’”

Another friend put him in touch with the Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership, which has hired a few other NFL players.

After a week, though, Harris got a call from the Packers. He was signed to the practice squad Oct. 24.

By the end of his first week in Green Bay, the Packers knew they had a keeper.

Though Harris is only 5-foot-8, he packs the power of a lineman. Combine that with his speed and elusiveness, and the Packers’ defensive players found themselves clutching air any time they tried to bring Harris down.

“After about the first two or three practices, you start to hear little mumblings in the back, ‘Oh, this guy’s got a little something to him,’ ” Green Bay running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said.

NFL divisional playoffs

Green Bay (12-5) at San Francisco (11-4-1)

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Candlestick Park

Line: 49ers by 3

Over/under: 45

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