The Green Bay Packers returned to the practice field on Wednesday and began Life After Ryan Grant.
With Grant’s season derailed by a serious ankle injury, Brandon Jackson becomes the face of a championship contender’s running game, with John Kuhn and newly signed Dimitri Nance as the backups.
“Ryan Grant is exactly the type of individual you want on your team and in your program, the way he goes about his business,” coach Mike McCarthy said after Wednesday’s practice. “He is a hard-working tough guy, no-nonsense, no-excuse individual, and he is a very good teammate. So, the personal angle of Ryan’s injury is definitely difficult, but in the big picture, the professional side of it, you build your football team. We have 61 players here, 53 on the roster and eight on the practice squad, and we’re getting ready for Buffalo. That’s our mood, that’s our focus.”
Not surprisingly, McCarthy had no interest in disclosing how the offense would change, starting Sunday with the home opener against the Bills.
“We’ll really answer the game-plan questions as we play,” he said. “We’re going to run our offense, No. 1. This has not made our job any harder as far as planning, but it is important to utilize your players to their skill-set. I think I am stating the obvious. We’ll be smart with the way we use all of our players, no different with Brandon and John and so forth.”
Jackson, whose role with Grant primarily was as the third-down back, said he’d likely hand over most of that third-down role to one of the other backs. To say he was happy about Grant’s injury would be absurd, but there was no hiding his grin as he talked to reporters.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “Just to get 18, 20 carries a game, oh, man, you just have a Kool-Aid smile on your face. Obviously, I’ve just got to continue to take care of the ball and just seize the opportunity.”
Jackson dropped the ball on that opportunity in 2007. The second-round pick won the job in training camp but lasted into the third game before being sidelined for a month with a shin injury. By the time he was back up to speed, Grant had run away with the starting role.
Jackson carried the ball 83 times as a rookie (including playoffs) and a combined 84 times over the next two seasons. Even at just 12 carries a game over the next 15 weeks, Jackson will be flirting with 200 carries. Clearly, it’s a workload he’s not accustomed to but it’s something he planned for during the offseason. Jackson, whose contract expires after this season, worked out harder and ate better than ever before.
He’s gained 10 pounds of muscle since his rookie season and says he’s up to 220.
“Coaches always say, if you’re not the starter, you’re always one play away,” he said. “It took two-and-a-half, three years for that to happen again. I’m prepared. Three years of preparing to be the starter and I’m ready.”
Paul Abell/AP Images
Behind Jackson, at least for the short run, will be 250-pound fullback Kuhn. For the previous two seasons, he had been the surprise ball-carrier in short-yardage or goal-line situations. With James Starks, Kregg Lumpkin and Quinn Porter injured in the preseason, Kuhn showed the running skills that made him a 4,685-yard rusher at Division II Shippensburg. That ability gave general manager Ted Thompson the flexibility on the roster to go with just two true halfbacks.
“It's one of those things where you work on it in the preseason as an emergency-type situation, and now it's an emergency. We need to go out and perform,” Kuhn said.
The wild card is Nance, who the Packers signed off the Falcons’ practice squad on Tuesday. An undrafted rookie out of Arizona State, Nance carried 21 times for 51 yards in the preseason. Those numbers are unimpressive on the surface but he scored two touchdowns and picked up eight first downs.
He said the Falcons tried to make room on their 53-man roster to promote him but he couldn’t ignore the opportunity in Green Bay. He’ll spend the week following running backs coach Edgar Bennett and getting familiar with some plays and the pass-protection schemes.
“It's been real crazy,” he said. “I was sitting at home, I saw Grant go down so I knew an opportunity could come. I just waited around and I got that call. It was kind of difficult, but just something I had to do.”
A final possibility will be at Lambeau Field on Sunday: Bills running back Marshawn Lynch. A first-round pick in 2007 who had 1,000-yard seasons in 2007 and 2008, Lynch has fallen out of favor on a team with veteran Fred Jackson and first-round pick C.J. Spiller. Lynch missed most of the summer with an ankle injury sustained on the first drive of the preseason. He carried three times for 13 yards last week against Miami in his first action since the injury.
“I haven’t seen a lot of him yet,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. “He’s showed some good things in training camp before we could get to games but I don’t really know about game day. He had a few carries the other day and had one good run but I don’t really know. I think time will tell how it pans out for him and for all of our backs. We’re trying to find everybody’s role and see how they’re going to play out this season.”
Lynch was a true freshman at Cal in 2004, which was Aaron Rodgers’ final year in school. “Bring him on,” Rodgers said on Wednesday.
Lynch, who has had some legal issues that could make him off-limits to Thompson, might not be on the block, according to a report. Yahoo’s Michael Silver said the Bills recently shot down an overture to acquire Lynch, and before the draft, they said no to a third-round pick and a player.
“He's a great player,” said Rodgers, who added that he had neither talked to Lynch nor the front office about his former teammate. “Any character issues that the team might see, I think in a situation like that, I think you've seen that with different players across the league, I think when you give a guy a change of scenery, and a guy like that who might feel like he has something to prove, and surround him with two guys, (linebacker Desmond) Bishop and myself, who have played with him, I think that can only help him feel comfortable and see a lot of production.”
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