GREEN BAY – Ryan Grant isn’t bitter. He’s just in a hurry.
The Green Bay Packers veteran running back made it clear when he re-signed with his former team on Dec. 5 that he wasn’t harboring any grudge for the club’s decision to sign another veteran running back (Cedric Benson) in August. And he also said he wasn’t mad that when injuries struck, the Packers added two young, unproven backs (claiming Johnny White on waivers from Buffalo on Oct. 15, and promoting practice-squad running back DuJuan Harris to the 53-man roster on Dec. 1) before finally giving him a call.
After spending most of the year out of football – Grant was with the Washington Redskins from Sept. 26 through Oct. 23, playing in only one game and getting only one carry – Grant just wants to keep things moving, as he did last Sunday, when he carried 20 times for 80 yards and two touchdowns and added a 34-yard catch-and-run in the Packers’ 55-7 blowout of the Tennessee Titans.
“I feel like I’m making up for lost time, so you have a little push with that and a little edge, a chip. Of course,” Grant said as the Packers prepared for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. “But that’s OK. Whatever drives the person is what drives them. So I’m OK with that – I really am. And that’s natural. It’s not a bitterness. It’s just, I’ve got to make up (time). So I have to take advantage of the time I get.”
If Grant continues to be productive, he figures to keep getting more time, even with potentially four running backs in the mix for the postseason. If the Packers beat the Vikings Sunday and secure the NFC’s No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it, the team could have four halfbacks at its disposal in the NFC Divisional Playoff round. Second-year man Alex Green, who missed last week’s game with a concussion, is expected to return to action Sunday, while former starter James Starks, who suffered a knee injury against the Vikings on Dec. 2, could be back for the Jan. 12-13 divisional weekend.
Benson, who suffered a foot injury Oct. 7 and was originally placed on injured reserve with the designation to return but wound up needing surgery, won’t be back this season, while White was put on IR with a concussion to make room for Grant.
Otherwise, the Packers will have a plethora of options in the backfield, and while coach Mike McCarthy has said he’s going to use the running back-by-committee approach, he’s also said he’d prefer to have one guy carry the load. And for much of McCarthy’s time in Green Bay, starting midway through the 2007 season, that guy had been Grant, the fifth-leading rusher in franchise history.
“Trust me, we’re in tune with the production of every guy. If one of them gets the hot hand, we’re going to go. I’m not playing favorites,” McCarthy said. “If we feel someone is hot running the football, he will run the football.”
On Sunday, that guy was Grant.
“Obviously we have a plan going in, with the amount of carries we want to give each guy, the type of carries we want to give them. But it changes on game-day, it could change quickly,” running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said.
“I think we feel good about our three guys (with) getting Alex back now, and the possibility of getting James back down the road. As a running back room, we’re feeling pretty good about the guys we have and the potential we have to help the team win in the playoffs.”
Grant certainly has proven himself in late-season situations before. Last season, when he was job-sharing with Starks, he ran 42 times for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the team’s final four regular-season games and added seven receptions for 162 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown in the regular-season finale. Of his 827 yards from scrimmage last season, 405 came in the final four games.
Before missing the team’s 2010 Super Bowl run with a leg injury suffered in the regular-season opener that year, Grant also had huge late-season games in 2009 (with a 137-yard, two-TD effort in Chicago on Dec. 13), 2008 (with 104- and 106-yard efforts against Houston and Detroit in the final four weeks of the regular season) and 2007 (with a team playoff-record 201-yard, three-TD game against Seattle in an NFC Divisional Playoff game on Jan. 12, 2008).
“He always runs the ball well in the winter months,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We’ve kind of always said it with Ryan: He runs the ball really hard in November, December and January. I’m so happy for him. He was on the street a few weeks back, and it’s all the things I’ve always said about him: He’s a great teammate, he practices really hard, and he sets a great example for those young guys. He studies hard, he knows the plan, he knows where he’s supposed to be. He’s a one-cut guy and a downhill runner and he’s tough to tackle.
“I’m just really happy for him, because I know how much he appreciates being back and knows that this is a special team. To be able to make a difference like he made on Sunday and moving forward, it’s good having him back.”
Also an advantage: Grant has more spring in his step than he’s had at the end of past seasons, when he’d carried the load for much of the year before entering the stretch run.
“It helps that he’s coming in with only three games under his belt. So he’s fresh – fresher than probably he’s ever been this time of year.” Van Pelt said. “I know talking to him, he feels really good physically right now, whereas most guys who are taking the load of the work are kind of beat up this time of year. He’s coming in, we’ve kind of eased him back in, gave him his most carries last week, and hopefully he’s feeling good physically.”
Neither Van Pelt nor offensive coordinator Tom Clements was surprised that the 6-foot-1, 222-pound Grant, who turned 30 on Dec. 9, was able to hit the ground running upon his return, either.
“We re-signed him, you could look at him and tell he’d been taking care of himself and was in good shape. He’d been with another team, hadn’t gotten a lot of playing time, but Ryan’s a hard-working guy, he’s a hard runner. He still has that,” Clements said. “I think everyone’s happy for him, but I don’t know that anyone’s surprised.”
Least of all Grant, who said that even while he was unemployed and back home in the New York/New Jersey area, he never entertained the possibility that his NFL career was over or that the teams that chose not to sign him – including the Packers – saw something that he didn’t.
“I knew they were wrong. And that’s OK,” Grant said. “The reason we’re at this level because we’ve always told (doubters) they were wrong. At some point in time, with the way this game goes, and especially at my position as a running back, guys go down. And I know what I bring skill-set wise to the table.
“I didn’t really think about it from that place. I think the minute you start to think there, that’s when you become detached and then it’s harder to stay in it, stay mentally involved, physically involved. And I wasn’t there, because I still wanted to play.
“The plan is just to continue to get better, more comfortable, better shape. Especially as a team, we just want to get rolling. I think that’ll happen, I expect that to happen – for the team.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.