GREEN BAY—When Ryan Grant walked into the gymnasium in the basement of Lambeau Field for Wednesday’s pre-practice walk-through, his teammates gave him a standing ovation.
Grant questioned whether the gesture was a joke, though Aaron Rodgers said it was out of respect and Mike McCarthy felt it reflected the locker room’s opinion of him. Either way, he appreciated the welcome back but was quickly done with the niceties.
“You don’t want to be a distraction,” Grant said. “Act like nothing happened.
“I didn’t come back here for a feel-good story. I came back here to help this team and contribute.”
Grant, a locker-room leader the previous five seasons (2007-11) with the Packers who was not brought back after last year, may get that chance to help right away.
He was signed because of a knee injury to James Starks that will sideline Starks “multiple weeks,” according to McCarthy, yet another in the litany of injuries to key personnel in 2012. Starks was injured in the fourth quarter last week against the Vikings, toward the end of a 12-carry, 66-yard performance.
His absence leaves the Packers with only two healthy running backs who have carried the ball this season, Alex Green and John Kuhn. Green is coming off of what McCarthy called his best game of the season last week (12 carries, 58 yards) and will be the main man again, but Grant was the Packers’ best backup option this late in the season because he knows the offense and can be ready to play right away.
Grant has been out of football most of 2012. He was with Washington for about a month but played in only one game. He said he’s also had workouts with the Giants, Lions and Bears this year.
Upon being released by the Redskins more than a month ago, Grant didn’t think that was it for his career, but then again he never imagined he’d have to wait as long as he did for another chance, not after rushing for 559 yards for the Packers last year while splitting time with Starks. He posted a 1,200-yard season as recently as 2009, but then lost his 2010 season to a broken ankle in the opener.
Speaking with reporters in the locker room on Wednesday, Grant sounded like a player who was appreciative of another chance yet out to prove something at the same time.
“I think any football player who hasn’t played football, the minute they get a chance to play football they’ll have a little chip on their shoulder,” he said. “If you talk to anybody in this position, that’s how they’ll play. This is a competitive sport.”
Grant turns 30 on Sunday, the red-flag age for running backs, which no doubt contributed to the lack of interest in him around the league this year. Grant also didn’t look last year – following ankle surgery – like the two-time 1,200-yard rusher he had been in the past, though he finished strong, with a 5.8-yard average (42 carries, 243 yards, two TDs) over the final four regular-season games.
Grant admitted that the last time he touched the ball as a Packer – a fumble after a short pass reception in the fourth quarter of the divisional playoff loss to the Giants – bothered him “about a month” into the offseason. But the former undrafted free agent, who didn’t become a No. 1 back until midway through his third season in the league, feels he’s still got something left.
“Fortunately for me, I’m not the average going-to-be-30-year-old back, because I didn’t do anything my first couple years,” he said. “I haven’t taken that wear and tear, and in 2010, of course, I didn’t take that wear. I don’t feel, I guess, how people think I should feel as a 30-year-old back.”
He could get his chance to prove it sooner rather than later. Though McCarthy said Grant wouldn’t play the entire game this week, he does expect him to be ready and available, and Green is still just barely more than a year removed from an ACL injury.
Statistically, Green has performed better sharing the load than being the workhorse. From Weeks 6-8, Green carried the ball 20-plus times in three straight games and averaged just 2.4 yards per rush (64 carries, 154 yards). Since he started splitting carries with Starks, his average has nearly doubled to 4.3 per carry (33 for 141).
If Grant can complement Green and contribute to the offense for the stretch run, that welcome-back ovation will have been no joke at all.
“We’ve won a lot of games together. He’s been a part of a lot of big victories,” Rodgers said. “He’s as tough as they come. He runs as hard as anybody, especially in the winter months, and he’s made some big plays for us over the years.” Additional coverage - Dec. 5