Green Bay Packers fans have little to no patience for former first round draft choice Justin Harrell anymore. And understandably so.
The No. 16 overall pick in 2007 has spent some or all of each of his three seasons as a professional on either injured reserve or the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Fresh in everyone's mind is that Harrell didn't play a single snap last season because of his troublesome back, originally injured during a weightlifting accident but complicated by further setbacks.
Even when Harrell has been able to play, he hasn't done anything noteworthy. In 13 regular season games that includes only two starts, Harrell has tallied 28 total tackles and not a single sack. Not exactly production expected of a first-round draft choice.
Well, it's now-or-never time for the former Tennessee Vol. Either Harrell contributes this year or the Packers should eat his contract. There's no getting around it. It's no use keeping him around if he can't even sniff the playing field.
Fortunately, Packers fans shouldn't be subjected to yet another "will he or won't he" studying of the scales whether or not Harrell is healthy enough to play. Definitive evidence should present itself over the course of training camp and the exhibition season.
If I'm correct, the Packers are going push the enigmatic defensive lineman to the limits throughout the course of August to find out if he's worth the investment the team is making in him. Or at least they should.
The Packers ought to take every opportunity to find out if Harrell can withstand the rigors on an entire NFL season. And their only window to do so is about a month's span from the time training camp opens on July 31 until the final preseason game on Sept. 2.
Harrell needs to participating in nearly every drill, taking every possible rep, participating in each snap of the football that he possibly can. It starts in practice and should carry over to the team's annual Family Night scrimmage where players will be taking part in what's essentially a simulated game.
Beyond that, Harrell must play extensively and hold up in all four exhibition games. Only then will the Packer have the proof necessary to determine that he can be an functional, effective cog in the larger Packers machine.
Harrell's preseason playing time shouldn't come at the expense of young players like rookie draft choices Mike Neal or C.J. Wilson or second-year pro Jarius Wynn. But if it's possible Harrell can play a role with the team this season, his development is every bit important as that of the younger players. His potential and raw ability could prove valuable to what the Packers do, and it's worth it to find out if he has what it takes.
All this isn't to say that the Packers shouldn't play it smart with Harrell this August. The man still suffered a serious injury. It would be smart for him to be placed on the Chad Clifton plan that has him resting during some of the evening sessions during two-a-days. But when Harrell is expected to be practicing, he better be, well, practicing.
The Packers know what they've got in players like Ryan Pickett, Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly. They don't need reps during the preseason games anymore than what it takes to get them in shape, sharp and ready for the start of the regular season. Plenty of extra time can be set aside for Harrell and company.
And if Harrell happens to get injured once the regular season starts, that's the risk you have to take. If Harrell can hold up through an entire rigorous training camp, there's nothing more you can ask. If and when he gets to that point, the chances of him becoming injured afterward would seem to be no more likely than anyone else on the roster.
No more guessing. No more questions. No more hesitancy. It's time to demonstrate if Harrell is capable of "Bustin' Loose."
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