New Diet, New Life For Harrell

DE Justin Harrell

Justin Harrell, the disappointing former first-round pick, feels good after Day 1 of training camp. Harrell discussed his cautiously optimistic outlook on this season and some of the changes he's made since last playing in 2008.

Justin Harrell used the phrase, "Like I said," 25 times during our six-minute interview following Saturday's first training camp practice.

It wasn't as if Harrell was repeating himself over and over again. At least not in this interview. He was repeating himself from what he's said in other interviews during his headed-toward-bust NFL career.

The Green Bay Packers' first-round pick in 2007, Harrell has played in just 13 of a possible 48 regular-season games. If 2008 was a disaster, with Harrell messing up his back while working out — an injury that required two surgeries and limited him to six mostly unproductive games — then what word do you use to describe his 2009? Harrell looked like a beast during the first week of training camp and then, suddenly, he never practiced again and spent the season on injured reserve because of his back.

So, pardon me if you've heard this story. Harrell feels good. He looked good, too, proving to be difficult to move on running plays.

Asked if he was optimistic that this year might be different, Harrell let out one of those fingers-crossed sort of laughs.

"That's all I can be," he said. "Like I said, we had a good offseason, just doing everything. Really been feeling good. Like I said, the last two years, all I can do is take it one day at a time and wish for the best."

It's been sort of a landmark offseason for Harrell. He got through organized team activities and the minicamp with no problems. He let out that nervous laugh again when asked if he felt this good at any point last year.

Yes, he did.

This time, though, maybe it'll be different. By not playing last year, Harrell was able to concentrate on strengthening the muscles while avoiding the play-after-play pounding that is commonplace in the trenches. Coach Mike McCarthy is happy with Harrell's conditioning. He's also putting more of an emphasis on nutrition — albeit with a little prodding.

"My max weight is 320. If I go over that, I get fined," said Harrell, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds. "As long as I stay below 320, but like I said, I don't want to get around 320. Just being conscious of what I'm eating. The lighter you are, the better it will be for my back."

Gone is the pork, burgers and the fatty fried foods that are the friends of many linemen. In their place are more chicken and fish.

"I've been one of those guys — a little bit of Whopper or anything like that, just something quick and fast," Harrell said. "Like I said, it's just being smart. I'm doing everything I can to control my body and what I put in it and just trying to see what happens."

Harrell is under no restrictions in training camp. For instance, there are two practices set for Sunday. McCarthy frequently lets veteran players and rehabbing players take the morning practice off, but Harrell said he'll suit up for practice until he's told otherwise.

The "otherwise" is something Harrell doesn't want to consider. He's been down this road before, feeling great at practice one afternoon and waking up the next morning only to find he can barely walk. If he winds up getting hurt again, his career in Green Bay likely will be over. And even if he's healthy and productive, can the Packers risk using a roster spot on him and potentially losing another player they really like?

So, Harrell knows he has something to prove. Just how can he prove that he can stay healthy?

"Just stay healthy," he said matter-of-factly. "That's the only thing I can say is just try to be available every day and just give your all. That's the only way I can prove to them that I can stay healthy."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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