The SEC is starting to have quite a presence with the Green Bay Packers’ reserves.
According to Matt Zenitz of AL.com, the Packers are signing former New England Patriots rookie linebacker De’Jon “Scoota” Harris as a member of their 2020 practice squad, making him the second player of the day with SEC roots to find a place in Green Bay.
Zenitz also reported earlier Sunday the Packers are adding former Alabama and Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Foster to their practice squad. Both he and Harris are expected to fill the two vacancies on the Packers’ current practice squad that was announced Sunday night.
Harris was a violent off-the-ball linebacker during his four-year career for Arkansas, going off for three consecutive seasons of 100-plus tackles once he became a full-time starter in 2017. In his final two seasons alone, Harris recorded 15.5 tackles for loss, seven pass deflections, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown.
The Packers’ inside linebacker position will be an important one to watch over the first few weeks of the 2020 season, and not just because they have flipped starters in the middle. While the early readings on Christian Kirksey suggest he will bring more athleticism to Green Bay’s defense as their new signal-caller, the depth behind him took a major hit when fifth-round rookie Kamal Martin tore his meniscus last week.
If Martin is placed on IR as expected, the Packers will be down to just Oren Burks and special teams asset Ty Summers behind Kirksey. All the more reason for the Packers to add someone like Harris, who can develop on the practice squad along with fellow undrafted rookie Krys Barnes, who was re-signed after spending training camp with the team.
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Harris Lost Uphill Battle in New England
Harris was projected as a possible late-round draft pick in 2020 with some strong endorsements on his draft profiles, especially as a run-defending linebacker. It was one of the reasons why the Patriots signed him as one of their 15 undrafted free agents back in April.
Nevertheless, even with Dont’a Hightower opting out of the season, Harris faced some long odds to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster with Ja’Whaun Bentley, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings already locked into roles with the team. He essentially spent his entire training camp battling with two other rookies — fifth-round pick Cassh Mailua and Kyahva Tezino — for a role as the Patriots’ third-down linebacker, but the Patriots decided to waive them all and stick with Bentley as their only true inside linebacker for 2020.
Possible Reasons for Signing Announcement Delays?
The fast-moving nature of NFL cutdown weekend and the resulting roster movements was made more challenging this offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that could be one of the reasons why neither Harris nor Foster was announced when the Packers unveiled the 14 members of this year’s practices squad (which holds up to 16).
Players who are moving between teams in 2020 are not only required to submit to the regular physical evaluations associated with signings but also must be tested for the coronavirus, adding a new — and often delaying — wrinkle to roster movement this preseason. As such, the Packers will need to wait for both newcomers to fly into town and pass their respective tests at the team facility before making either signing official.
While much less likely, there is also the possibility that one or both players changed their minds too late in the process for the Packers to find two more fits. Neither player has been linked to another team, but the chaos of post-cuts can sometimes cause things to change.