GREEN BAY – Never let it be said that being a scout-team star doesn’t matter.
As a member of the Packers’ practice squad, rookie running back John Crockett has been on the scout team all season. He performed his duties so well recently that he was one of two practice-squad players in the travel party last week, an occasional reward doled out with no publicity.
How fortunate, then, that Crockett was already in Detroit when the Packers decided to sign him to the active roster on Thursday and put him on the 46-man gameday roster for that night against the Lions.
Crockett said he found out roughly three hours before kickoff of the team’s decision, and suddenly he was putting on an NFL uniform on gameday for the first time since the preseason.
“It’s surreal. It still truly hasn’t hit me yet,” Crockett said in a brief interview in the Ford Field locker room, moments after he rushed five times for 22 yards in the Packers’ last-second victory.
“But at the end of the day, you’re preparing yourself for this moment, having the mindset to stay hungry and stay ready. This game is so crazy. Anything can happen, you just have to be ready for the opportunity.”
Maybe it was a blessing Crockett didn’t have much time to think about his pro debut. Processing everything he had been through to get to this point – coming from an FCS school, going undrafted despite residing in an ESPN spotlight throughout the draft process, failing to make the 53-man roster out of training camp – might have been overwhelming.
“It’s one of those moments you dream about,” said Crockett, a decorated star at North Dakota State. “You try to figure out a way you can build your career coming out being a free agent, which is one of the toughest things to do, and to be able to come and contribute to a win like this, it’s one of those moments you have to thank the Man upstairs for.”
Crockett played like he belonged. Taking over at running back to start the second half with the Packers’ ground game sputtering, he was stopped for no gain on his first carry but then picked up four and 12 yards on his next two rushes. That drive ended with the Packers’ first touchdown.
He later broke off a 10-yard run on the final play of the third quarter before losing his balance on his final carry and losing four yards.
As a scout-team running back, he spent the majority of the season trying to find holes against the Packers’ first-string defense in practice, so to him, the transition to a real game wasn’t that dramatic.
“This is one of the best defenses in the league, I feel like,” Crockett said of Green Bay. “Just being able to have that preparation gives you that self-confidence to be able to say, ‘I can play against Hall of Famers and do all right.’ You just go out there and do everything you can to be successful.”
Part of Crockett’s M.O. is to display endless energy and enthusiasm. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Crockett always makes him smile, greeting the team in the Lambeau Field tunnel and firing up teammates on the sidelines.
At the same time, “he’s got his nose in his playbook, the way it should be,” McCarthy said, which made him the right guy to provide a spark in a 20-0 game in the third quarter.
Where he fits in the offensive picture from here on out amidst regulars James Starks and Eddie Lacy, time will tell. But whether he’s cheering or producing, Crockett will have a presence in some way.
“I’m emotional. I’m going to be energetic all the time, just having that energy about myself,” he said. “Hopefully it helps get guys going a little bit.”