GREEN BAY, Wis. – Ryan Grant didn’t want his return to the Green Bay Packers to be a distraction, so he figured he’d say a few quick hellos and get right to work.
His teammates were having none of that plan.
They gave the veteran running back a standing ovation when he arrived Wednesday, thrilled he’d found his way back to Green Bay.
“It’s great to see him back, back in the green and gold. I’ve missed him,” Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s done a lot of great things for this organization, he’s a great teammate. We’re excited to have him back.”
Grant is fifth on Green Bay’s all-time rushing list, running for 4,016 yards and 25 touchdowns from 2007-11. But he missed most of the 2010 season after hurting his ankle in the season opener, and split time with James Starks last year. The Packers opted not to re-sign Grant last summer, betting that Starks, Cedric Benson and Alex Green would be enough to carry the load.
But Benson hasn’t played since spraining his foot Oct. 7, and the Packers announced last week that he will stay on injured reserve the rest of the season. Starks will miss “multiple weeks” with a knee injury, coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. Green is getting better, playing one of his better games of the year Sunday against the Vikings, but he can’t be Green Bay’s only option.
Grant provides the perfect solution. Not only does he give the Packers badly needed depth, there’s no adjustment period. He was with Washington from Sept. 26 to Oct. 23, and has kept himself in shape since the Redskins released him.
Better yet, he knows Green Bay’s offense – “Wrinkles here and there” are the only changes Grant noticed – and McCarthy fully expects Grant will be able to play in Sunday night’s game against Detroit.
“Ryan has great history with us, can kind of step right in,” McCarthy said. “I don’t see him having any issues getting ready.”
Even his lack of a locker was quickly solved.
All of the lockers in the Packers’ main room have been taken, so Grant commandeered four in the auxiliary room.
“That’s kind of cool,” he said. “I’ve probably got the most lockers in here. … I can spread all my stuff around.”
Grant’s return could help stabilize Green Bay’s running game, which has struggled with consistency all year. The Packers are 11th in the NFC with 105 yards rushing a game, and have scored just three touchdowns on the ground.
Yes, Green Bay’s strength is always going to be its passing game so long as Rodgers is around, but the Packers have to have balance. They could use some help with pass protection, too. Rodgers has been sacked a league-worst 39 times, three more knockdowns than he took all of last season.
“I feel good football wise,” Grant said. “I stayed mentally and physically involved and attached to the game. I’m looking forward to it.”
After he was released by Washington, Grant went back home to New York. Though he took advantage of his newfound free time to do things with his family and catch up on his reading – “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell’s book about the factors that contribute to success, was his favorite – he never got out of the football frame of mind. He kept to a workout schedule, and would watch games on weekends.
And unlike millions of Americans who like nothing better than to park themselves on the couch for an entire Sunday, that was one of Grant’s least-favorite parts of the layoff.
“It’s a different angle,” he said. “I don’t really like watching football. It’s hard for me as a spectator. I love football and I love what goes on, but to just sit and watch games is hard for me because I watch it as Xs and Os. So it’s like studying film.”
The prep work paid off, though.
Grant had always hoped to return to Green Bay, where he was a favorite both on the field and off. But he said there are no hard feelings about Green Bay’s decision last spring, and he didn’t think twice about rejoining the Packers when they called Tuesday night.
“That’s the business aspect of it,” he said. “I came into this league understanding the business aspect and I think that — I don’t want to say it made things a little easier, but at the same time it made me understand some things. I don’t take things personal in this business.
“I didn’t come here for a feel-good story,” he added. “I came back here to help this team and contribute.”
Notes: DB Charles Woodson practiced Thursday, and McCarthy said the perennial Pro Bowler’s return from a broken collarbone is “getting close.” … WR Jordy Nelson and LB Clay Matthews, who both have hamstring injuries, are getting better but McCarthy said he isn’t sure if either will be ready this week. … WR Donald Driver said the thumb injury that has limited him in practice the last couple of weeks and kept him out of Sunday’s game is actually a broken thumb. “I can’t do anything about it,” Driver said. “It’s not the worst that I’ve had. I can fight through anything and I’ll continue to fight through this one.”