In a worst-case scenario, Ryan Grant is out for the season.
Fox Sports NFL insider Jay Glazer broke the news and it was confirmed to Packer Report. The Packers later announced that they had put Grant and Justin Harrell on season-ending injured reserve and signed running back Dimitri Nance and re-signed defensive end Jarius Wynn.
“When you lose a running back of Ryan’s caliber, it’s a big loss," general manager Ted Thompson said in a statement from the team. "But this is something we have to deal with and move forward from as a team. We have confidence that our other players will step up and meet the challenge of these losses."
Grant suffered a serious injury to his right ankle during the last of three successive strong runs during Sunday’s game at Philadelphia. Coach Mike McCarthy did not know the severity of the injury on Monday, but a source told Packer Report that Grant tore a ligament that holds two bones together in the ankle. The injury requires surgery. Furthermore, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Grant suffered a small fracture in his upper fibula, which will heal on its own.
Grant, who is one of only four running backs in the NFL coming off of back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons, was the durable, hard-working workhorse of the Packers’ backfield. He had played in 51 consecutive games, including playoffs. Since becoming the featured ball-carrier for the Packers midway through the 2007 season, Grant had double-digits carries in 43 of 45 games. Last year, he had 282 of the 374 rushes that went to the running backs, or 75.4 percent. That was actually a decrease from 2008, when Grant got 312 of the 374 carries, or a league-high 83.4 percent of the running backs’ attempts.
With his eight carries against the Eagles, Grant has gone 299 rushes without a fumble.
In 2007, Grant won the full-time job after rookie Brandon Jackson was injured and DeShawn Wynn struggled. Now, it’ll be Jackson replacing Grant. Jackson did well last week, with 75 total yards on 18 carries and two receptions.
“It's just one play away,” Jackson said on Monday. “They always say it's just one play away. And last weekend, it was one play and I was in the game. I wanted to do whatever it takes to help the team win, get my spark, and obviously I want to pick up where Ryan Grant left off in the running game.”
Fullback John Kuhn, who is the team’s emergency third back, carried twice for 15 yards and a touchdown and will be the No. 2 back.
Rather than promote James Johnson off of their practice squad or bring back Ahman Green, the Packers elected to sign Nance off the Falcons' practice squad. Nance (5-10, 218), Arizona State's two-time leading rusher, was an undrafted free agent this year. He rushed for two touchdowns in the preseason game against Kansas City and finished with 51 yards on 21 carries and 44 yards on seven receptions in the four games.
Clearly, losing Grant is a major loss.
Not only was he durable, but he was big enough to take a pounding and fast enough to get around the corner or go the distance. During one three-game stretch last season, Grant had a 62-yard touchdown against Chicago, 24-yard touchdown against Pittsburgh and 56-yard touchdown against Seattle. Jackson is more of a between-the-tackles runner.
“He's got that nice natural center of gravity that's a little bit lower,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “He's built in the lower body, so he's got that ability to sometimes bounce off of tackles where I think Ryan might break more tackles with his upper body and dipping his pad and bouncing off a guy. I think Brandon might have a little more lower-body balance, he might run through arm tackles a bit better in that regard. I still think he has good vision and he's pretty decisive with the ball.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.