As Vol fans are acutely aware, Justin Harrell was primed to be the bell cow of Tennessee's 2006 defensive line until he tore the bicep muscle in his left arm in Game 2 against Air Force. The 6-4, 300-pound senior from Martin courageously elected to postpone surgery for a week, so he could play one last time against arch-rival Florida.
With his injured arm heavily padded and taped, Harrell gave one of the gutsiest performances in recent Vol history against the Gators, starting and playing most of the game despite considerable pain. Days later he underwent surgery and missed the season's final 10 games.
Although Harrell played just three games in '06, NFL scouts saw enough during his junior year of 2005 to know he was a quality prospect. Though overshadowed by All-American Jesse Mahelona that fall, Harrell posted more tackles (39 to 35), more big plays (14.5 to 9), more pass deflections (5 to 0), more fumbles forced (2 to 1) and more sacks (2.5 to 2.0). Mahelona had slight edges in tackles for loss (8 to 7.5) and quarterback hurries (11 to 9) but Harrell intercepted two passes that fall, returning one for a touchdown against Kentucky.
In spite of the talent and heart Harrell exhibited at Tennessee, many Green Bay supporters booed when the Packers selected him with pick No. 16 in last April's NFL Draft. Given Green Bay's desperate need for playmakers on offense, a lot of the so-called "cheese heads" seemed outraged that the team used its first-round pick on a defensive lineman with durability concerns.
Showing great poise, however, Harrell reacted by noting: "I'm happy to have an opportunity to show them what I can do. Hopefully, they will accept me and turn those boos into cheers."
Now that he's finally cleared to go full-throttle, Harrell hopes to take the first step in that process on July 28.