Jackson will be the primary running back for this week’s game against Buffalo and perhaps longer due to Ryan Grant’s ankle injury. Grant went down in the second quarter in Philadelphia on Sunday with what McCarthy termed a “significant” injury involving the ankle ligament. Further tests are being done and there’s no definite timetable on Grant, but he has been ruled out for this week, which turns things over to Jackson full-time.
“I feel Brandon Jackson carried the load (Sunday),” McCarthy said, referring to Jackson’s 18-carry, 63-yard performance against the Eagles. “I think there’s a lot of evidence right there, recent evidence that he’s able to play all three downs.”
Jackson also added two pass receptions for 12 yards and maintained his responsibilities in third-down blitz pick-up, the role he shined in last year as he elevated himself to the clear No. 2 back behind Grant.
Jackson was at his best on the Packers’ two touchdown drives in the third quarter. On the first, he started it with a 7-yard run and then broke off an 11-yard gain one snap before John Kuhn’s 3-yard TD run. On the next drive, he took a handoff up the middle on a draw and picked up 18 yards.
“He started to show the complete package,” running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. “He can play on all downs, in all situations and be productive, and that’s the bottom line.
“He’s playing with a confidence and he’ll certainly have some opportunities coming up.”
Jackson wasn’t nearly as productive in his only other stint as an every-down back in his career, but it came in the first three games of his rookie season in 2007 when he was still adjusting to the pro game as an early entry in the draft. In those games, all Green Bay wins, he rushed 38 times for 97 yards and a touchdown, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry with no runs longer than nine. He also caught 11 passes for 81 yards in those games, an average of 7.4 yards per catch.
Jackson has come a long way since then, as some of his runs in Philadelphia showed. Using his powerful, well-built lower body – his thighs are probably bigger than Grant’s – Jackson broke a handful of tackles in Sunday’s game and gained a lot of yards after contact.
“Coming out of the game I think I did fairly well,” Jackson said. “I’m just looking to continue and pick it up another notch. Just take it to a different level.
“It’s experience. It’s all about experience and understanding the scheme, watching film and studying your opponents.”
His run as a feature back in 2007 was halted after those three games due to a shin injury, and by the time he was healthy again, Grant had taken over the top role. Jackson has been waiting for an opportunity like this ever since, and even though he’d never wish ill health on a teammate, he also knows it’s part of the game and it’s his job to be ready.
Jackson’s best game as a rusher came in the final regular-season game of his rookie season, with 113 yards on 20 carries against Detroit (Grant took an early rest that game to get ready for the playoffs). He added an 80-yard effort, on just 11 carries, vs. Carolina in 2008. His career best as a receiver came last year against San Francisco, with six catches for 65 yards.
With Jackson as the lead back, Kuhn will move into the backup role. Kuhn, who is primarily a fullback, had just two carries on Sunday but certainly produced with a 12-yard run and the 3-yard TD.
Grant has posted back-to-back 1,200-yard rushing seasons, which is a lot of production to account for. Whether Jackson can truly replace Grant, time will tell.
“We just want him to be Brandon Jackson,” Bennett said. “We feel comfortable about who he’s become in his growth. (Sunday) was an example of Brandon kind of coming into his own.”
Tough luck, again
Defensive end Justin Harrell’s knee injury Sunday turned out to be a torn ACL that will put the fourth-year pro on injured reserve, ending his season. He was hurt on special teams, blocking on Mason Crosby’s first field-goal attempt in the second quarter.
Harrell’s injury-filled career seemed to be turning a corner this year when he made it through training camp without having to miss any extended time. Harrell had been limited to just six games in 2008 and then missed all of last season with recurring back problems. Various injuries also limited him to just seven games as a rookie in 2007, when he was a first-round draft pick.
But unfortunately, his good health lasted less than half of a real game. Harrell played a couple of snaps on defense – and looked good, according to the coaches – before his leg got caught up in a pile on the field goal.
“Justin’s had a tough go from a medical standpoint,” McCarthy said. “I’ve seen players in this league sometimes have injuries in bunches and then they’re able to overcome them and go on to have a good career, and I was hoping Justin would fall into that category, and now he has another hurdle that he has to get over.”
When Harrell left Sunday’s game, the Packers were down to just three defensive linemen because rookies Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson were both inactive. It forced B.J. Raji, who played nearly all the snaps on defense, plus Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins (who was playing with a club cast on his broken hand) to handle a much larger snap load than usual. Raji’s snap count was in the high 50s, well above his previous high as a rookie last year in the mid-30s.
McCarthy said he hopes Neal will be able to return from his abdominal/side injury this week, and he indicated Wilson could have a role in the rotation as well. Jenkins, who broke his hand in the first quarter, is expected to continue playing with the club cast.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame released its annual list of preliminary nominees, and once again former Packers safety LeRoy Butler and general manager Ron Wolf are on it. Also on the preliminary list are Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene and the father of linebacker Clay Matthews, Clay Jr.
The preliminary list includes 113 nominees, which will be whittled down to 25 semifinalists and then 15 finalists later this fall. All of the aforementioned nominees have been on the preliminary list in the past, with Greene also reaching semifinalist stage in the past as well.
First-year eligible nominees added to the Hall of Fame list this year include running backs Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk and Curtis Martin, receiver Jimmy Smith, offensive lineman Willie Roaf, cornerback Deion Sanders and coach Dick Vermeil.
The coaching staff awarded game balls in the team meeting on Monday. On offense, one went to fullback Korey Hall for several strong lead blocks in the running game. On defense, it went to linebacker Clay Matthews, who had two sacks and played a major part in the key fourth-down stop to seal the win. And on special teams it went to returner Jordy Nelson, who had kickoff returns of 51 and 40 yards in the second half.
Also, the "big hit" award went to linebacker Desmond Bishop for a play on kickoff coverage.