But when it’s Ryan Grant finishing a run post-whistle, he doesn’t just cruise a few dozen additional yards. He sprints. All the way to the end zone. Even if it’s an extra 80 yards.
His explanation, as to why he doesn’t just do what most other guys do?
“I’m not trying to be like everybody else, plain and simple,” Grant said. “I’m not trying to perform like everyone else, not trying to be like everyone else, and I feel like that mentality has gotten me where I am. I’m going to do more.
“I didn’t get into the league like that, and I’m not just trying to stay. That’s what got me to this place is doing more and doing what other people won’t do.”
It’s hard to argue when talking about a player who started his career as a non-drafted free agent out of Notre Dame, spent a year on the New York Giants’ practice squad, then spent a year out of football with an offseason injury, and then was traded to a new team, the Packers, on the eve of the 2007 season.
Humble beginnings to be sure, especially considering that since then Grant has become only the third player in Green Bay’s nine-plus decades of history to rush for more than 1,200 yards in back-to-back seasons (Jim Taylor and Ahman Green are the others).
Simply put, he approaches an otherwise mundane training camp practice the way he does – on one of his long sprints earlier this week, safety Nick Collins began to chase him, and Grant still kicked it into another gear so he wouldn’t get run down – because he has no intention of giving up the status he has earned with all that hard work.
“Great leadership,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “He sets a real good example for the offensive unit. He’s always ready to practice. He gives great effort on the field, and that’s contagious.”
Grant also remembers that he got his chance midway through ’07 due to an injury, when DeShawn Wynn hurt his shoulder on a Monday night in Denver. Even though there’s always some luck involved with health, Grant continues to do everything in his power to keep his body in pristine shape, hopefully to limit the chances of an injury that forces him to step aside.
If there’s any concern with Grant, it’s that he’ll work too hard at times like these. The first real game is still more than a month away, with four preseason games in between, and if all goes well Grant will be needed for 300 carries or so over 16 games in the regular season (and perhaps beyond). There’s a lot more work for the workhorse to do after August.
But don’t look for Grant to start backing off. For a No. 1 back whose steady production can be taken for granted, he never takes for granted the fact that he’s a No. 1 back.
“It’s all about your attitude and how he applies himself,” running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. “We have extremely high standards, and he takes pride in that. That’s a big part of why he is who he is and the character that he has. He’ll continue to improve and get ready for a big year.”
So for now, the coaching staff is going to let Grant do his thing. There’s no reason to question his durability, having played in 50 straight games (including playoffs), even fighting through a nagging hamstring injury through the first half of the 2008 season without missing a start. He hasn’t shown any tendency to break down during the latter stages of a long year either.
In fact, it’s somewhat the opposite. The four longest TD runs of Grant’s career, all between 56 and 66 yards, have come during Week 13 or later on the schedule. Including playoffs, five of his six longest runs (scoring or non-scoring) have come after the 11th regular-season game.
Grant doesn’t doubt that his exhausting summer sprints help to produce those long winter runs.
“That’s training camp,” he said. “That’s how it goes. You expect it be hard. All this does is just prepare us for those types of positions, whether it’s fourth quarter, late in the game, late in the season, whatever it is when we’re going to be tired. It’s that time where, who’s going to buckle down and get it done?”
For extra preparation, Grant even added a new element to his conditioning regimen this past offseason, trying mixed martial arts training. He’s hoping the MMA work will boost his hip strength and flexibility, increasing his power through the hole and improving his balance.
If it pays off, Grant might help to put to rest one of the oft-heard knocks against him – that he goes down too easy sometimes and doesn’t break enough tackles. When the coaches reviewed Grant’s 1,253-yard, 11-touchdown season in 2009, they confirmed that he did leave some yards on the field, so they know he hasn’t maxed out his production.
“You know how it is, you’re always looking for more, and that’s certainly the case as well with Ryan,” Philbin said. “He’s a good, physical guy, and he’s better than we give him credit for. Coaches are greedy, and we think we should have more, and he’s not alone. We think we should have better execution from a lot of guys. I think our guys feel that way about themselves, which is a plus.”
Grant obviously does, or he wouldn’t push himself in practice to this extent. The external questions and criticisms also motivate him a little, and he says his goal each year is to gain a few new followers, new believers.
But he’s not going to simply tell any critics that since Week 7 of that ’07 season, when he came off the bench to top 100 yards at Denver, he has more rushing yards (3,385) than all but one other back in the NFL (Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, 3,814).
He’d rather just keep slipping out of the pile on hot summer afternoons and sprinting as long as there’s green grass in front of him, setting an example for anyone willing to follow.
“That’s the mentality, that I want to be that guy,” Grant said. “I feel like I’ve been that guy and I want to continue to be that guy. But you have to earn it every year. You have to go out and get it.”