He’s itching to play for real, and Ryan Grant showed it on the first snap Thursday night at Lambeau Field.
When Grant broke off a 23-yard run to open the first-team offense’s lone series in the preseason finale against Kansas City, he served notice that he’s ready to pick up where he left off a year ago.
It was an 18-yard run and awkward tackle that wrecked Grant’s ankle and ended his season in the opener last September. On Thursday, one week before Grant finally returns for a regular-season game, he got the ball on four of the first five snaps and gained 31 of the offense’s 56 yards on its way to an opening touchdown in what eventually became a 20-19 Green Bay victory.
“I’m not mad I got it,” Grant said of the early workout, though he didn’t feel he needed a big run to show he’s back. “We feel good about the drive that we had as an offense. We felt we had a tempo moving the ball. We wanted to start off fast for our sake and for our younger guys coming in.”
Those younger guys ended up playing primarily against the Chiefs’ starters in what degenerated into a sloppy though mildly entertaining, eight-turnover affair that wasn’t decided until Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop’s 56-yard field goal try on the final play was wide left.
The Packers’ second- and third-stringers on offense were a bit overmatched by the Chiefs’ regulars, as Green Bay produced just four first downs and 66 total yards, and allowed a safety, after the No. 1 offense departed.
The reserves on defense told another story, though, especially outside linebacker Vic So’oto. Facing a Chiefs starting unit that replaced only quarterback Matt Cassel with backup Tyler Palko in the second quarter when Cassel was buried for a sack by nose tackle Howard Green, the undrafted rookie So’oto might have been the best player on the field.
He had 1½ sacks, forced a fumble by Kansas City’s top back, Jamaal Charles, in the first quarter, and intercepted a Palko pass in the flat intended for running back Dexter McCluster in the third quarter. So’oto returned the pick 33 yards for a touchdown for what turned out to be the winning points.
Afterward, the modest So’oto was only thinking about all the things outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene is going to correct him on, such as allowing the tight end to release to the wrong side on the play he got the interception. But, of course, if he gets that chance to review the film with Greene, it means So’oto has made the team and that will make the criticism well worth taking.
“I made a lot of mistakes and there’s a lot to clean up, but for the most part I just tried to lay it all out on the field,” So’oto said. “I could have had a couple more sacks, if I went inside instead of outside. ‘KG’ will be very disappointed in me. Hopefully, I get a chance to come back here and show him I can do it.”
That would “mean the world” to So’oto, who didn’t even get an invite to the scouting combine coming out of BYU and who was determined to make it to all his morning workouts despite a newborn daughter waking up every two hours through the winter and spring.
“People doubted me,” So’oto said. “I had coaches at my school say to me, ‘What are you going to do now?’ right after football season. That kind of hurt me.
“My wife said, ‘What’s plan B?’ and I said there is no plan B. I’m playing football.”
So’oto’s pick-six was one of five Kansas City turnovers, three of which led to 13 second-half points for the Packers. All sorts of roster-bubble players got in on the turnover-fest, as cornerback Pat Lee recovered two fumbles and linebacker Cardia Jackson had a fumble recovery and an interception, the former forced by cornerback Brandian Ross and the latter off a deflection by safety Anthony Bratton.
On a rough night for the offense, one player fighting for a roster spot continued to state his case.
With the Packers’ top five receivers plus tight end Jermichael Finley getting the night off, undrafted rookie receiver Tori Gurley snagged an Aaron Rodgers’ bullet over the middle for 12 yards to convert a third-and-9 in the red zone on the opening drive.
On the next series, with Matt Flynn at quarterback, Gurley hauled in a 25-yard sideline go-route with an impressive leap over cornerback Brandon Flowers, but the play was overturned when replay showed Gurley’s second foot hit the boundary.
“I wanted to show the ability to go up against anyone in a game, against starting defensive backs,” Gurley said. “Little things like that can take you a long way.”
A possible touchdown Gurley let slip through his fingers might have taken him even further. In the third quarter after Charles’ second fumble gave the Packers the ball at the Kansas City 26, Flynn fired to Gurley on a comeback route along the right sideline. Flowers jumped in front, leaving no one between Gurley and the end zone, and missed on the interception attempt, but Gurley couldn’t quite secure the catch.
“He got a hand on it, but I’ve got to make that play,” Gurley said. “I’m going to continue to work hard on that. I’ll watch the film if I’m still here and we’ll see.”