Justin K. Aller
The Steelers signed Jacksonville cast-off DuJuan Harris essentially to have a fresh running back for the team's final exhibition game this past preseason. After being released, he wound up in Green Bay where he's having success for the surging Packers.
Free agent running back DuJuan Harris lugged the rock 13 times for 45 yards in Pittsburgh's preseason finale against Carolina, a game that ended up being better known for the injury suffered by rookie linebacker Sean Spence than anything else.
It was a throwaway, and in fact, the only reason Harris was signed that week was to fill in for the multitude of Steelers running backs unable to play in the least meaningful game of the meaningless stretch of four exhibitions before the regular season.
Harris looked pretty good. We were even excited about coining the nickname of the preseason duo of Harris and fellow running back Jason Ford (Harris and Ford).
He wasn't long for the Steelers roster anyway. He was cut after that game with the final roster trimmings, and after a stint of selling cars, he was signed by Green Bay to its practice squad.
Harris, though, is the one standing out, despite only standing 5-foot-8. He had 100 total yards (53 receiving, 47 rushing) and a touchdown in the Packers' 24-10 win over Minnesota in the wild card round of the NFC Playoffs Jan. 5, as the Steelers were getting into the swing of the offseason.
Staring at three running backs with "free agent" somewhere in their title, watching those teams remaining, the Steelers have decisions to make. In 2012 season that was supposed to be the return of the dominant Steelers running games of the past, it turned out to be one of the worst rushing teams in franchise history.
It automatically conjures the Chicken vs. The Egg argument that is running the ball in today's NFL; is it a byproduct of the skill in the back himself, or is he merely one cog in a successful machine?
It's hard to glean an answer from the Steelers, particularly in 2012, due to the fact every running back to whom they gave more than 40 carries on the season had at least one outstanding game. They had five of them on the roster at one point, too, yet, Harris's two touchdowns in the regular season in Green Bay - a team that runs the ball more as an afterthought than anything else - equaled the amount scored by Jonathan Dwyer (two), Isaac Redman (two) and Chris Rainey (two). He topped Rashard Mendenhall's one.
It's circular to continue rehashing former players who have performed well for other teams (for every John Kuhn there's five Jonathan Scotts). More than anything, it shows not just the value of finding the right running back (it's not as if the Packers had him signed to their active roster and immediately began giving him 25 touches a game), but the fact there are seemingly so many who can be molded into the offense, it has to give the Steelers some thought as they approach free agency.
Mendenhall, the only unrestricted free agent running back, is likely to fetch a higher price tag due to his physical attributes and past success when healthy (he played the 2012 season while continuing to rehab from a torn ACL suffered in 2011). But success like the league is seeing for a player as seemingly marginal as Harris was (cut twice before ending up on Green Bay's practice squad) drives the value of that position down.
Or perhaps it's false value, and the real trick is having the right personnel management in place to spot beneficial players whether they're on that team's roster, another team's roster, or selling cars in Jacksonville.