Taking nothing for Granted

Packers running back Ryan Grant bursts onto the scene after being forgotten with Notre Dame and the New York Giants. While Brett Favre is the star, Grant has been the Packers' salvation, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says.

Nobody thought Ryan Grant would turn into a record-setting running back. Certainly not the Green Bay Packers, who announced the Sept. 1 trade in a way best described as an afterthought.

First, the press release named the 20 players released on the final roster cutdown.

Then, it listed the three players placed on injured reserve.

Finally, it announced Grant was acquired from the New York Giants for an undisclosed draft pick in the fourth and final paragraph.

Fast forward about four-and-a-half months to Sunday's NFC championship game against the New York Giants. Brett Favre may be the superstar, but Grant has been the Packers' salvation.

Despite being the Packers' featured ball-carrier for only the final 10 regular-season games, Grant rushed for 956 yards and eight touchdowns, giving necessary offensive balance to a team that was winning early in the season in spite of the NFL's worst rushing attack.

Then, in the snowy playoff romp against Seattle, Grant overcame two early fumbles to rush for 201 yards and three touchdowns. That's better than any of the Packers' legendary running backs, from Pro Football Hall of Famers Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor to team greats like Dorsey Levens, Ahman Green and Grant's position coach, Edgar Bennett.

Not that the level-headed Grant is ready to put himself in their class, though.

"I don't think I'm following in it yet because I don't feel like I personally have done that much," Grant told a huge throng of reporters at Packers headquarters on Wednesday. "In the legacy of those types of backs, I think people should keep things in perspective. Those backs did it year in and year out, day in and day out. I haven't really done that much yet. 

"I appreciate when people do make comparisons, but I'm just really trying to take one day at a time and keep this going. But I definitely appreciate it, and it's an honor when people say that. And like I said, I will continue to try and earn the respect and confidence of the coaching staff and the players on the team."

No doubt, he did that long ago. While Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn were on the fast track to nowhere in the featured role early in the season, Grant has ripped off big play after big play. He looks the part of a standout running back, with the necessary size (6-foot-1, 218 pounds) and speed (4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash coming out of Notre Dame), but what sets Grant apart is his uncommon vision.

In the Packers' zone-blocking scheme, the crease is not necessarily at the point of attack. Finding that crease is what Grant does best. Most of his big runs have come on cutbacks, sometimes completely across the formation.

"Guys have been doing a great job making it real easy, covering up guys, giving me lanes and being very decisive on what we're trying to do," Grant said while giving the credit to the blockers. "It comes back to the fundamentals of work and the technique of what we're doing."

What's amazing is Grant's potential has gone unnoticed for years.

At Notre Dame, Grant sat behind Julius Jones as a freshman. With Jones out for academic reasons, Grant rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore. Jones returned, however, and Grant was back on the sideline. As a senior, Irish coaches gave the starting job to true freshman Darius Walker.

So, even though he concluded his career ranked 11th on Notre Dame's rushing list, he entered the NFL in 2005 as an undrafted free agent.

Grant spent his rookie season on the practice squad — a "humbling experience," he calls it — and his career took a dramatic downturn from there.

Out with teammates at a nightclub in March 2006, Grant slipped. To regain his balance, he reached out, only to smash a champagne glass, severing an artery, the ulnar nerve and a tendon in his left arm. If not for someone calling 911, he might have bled to death.

"They said I only had a couple more minutes left" to live, said Grant, who sports a 6-inch scar.

The injury landed him on season-ending injured reserve, but Grant opened eyes during training camp last summer, when he rushed for 90 yards on 18 carries. Even with the retirement of Tiki Barber, the Giants had an abundance of running backs. The Packers had the opposite problem.

"We talked to other teams about different guys," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. "We liked what we saw in Ryan during the preseason."

Still, even the Packers' problems at running back weren't enough to get Grant onto the field. Nor was a nifty 21-yard gain on a screen pass in Week 2 against the Giants. When he fumbled in Week 4 at Minnesota, Grant was rewarded with a seat on the bench.

Grant got his chance — and ran with it — in Week 8 when Wynn went down at Denver. Grant carried 22 times for 104 yards against the Broncos, and suddenly, the Packers had a home-run hitter in the backfield. He's rushed for at least 100 yards six times and scored at least one touchdown in the last seven games.

With another big game on Sunday, Grant can help push the Packers to an unexpected Super Bowl while knocking out his old team. Revenge, though, isn't on his mind.

Asked if the Giants made a mistake by trading him for a mere sixth-round pick, Grant said: "They're in the NFC championship, so I don't think so."

The modesty comes because Grant never takes anything for granted, even though he was taken for granted before bursting onto the scene.

"Every once in a while (I look back), and I'm definitely grateful," Grant said. "It's been a long year for me, but like I said, I'm definitely grateful and appreciative. I really just want to take advantage. I don't want to take anything for granted, with situation that I'm in and the tradition that we're in as a team. Every day, I count my blessings and just really go out there and work as hard as possible and get better each day. Every once in a while — I try not to look at the past, I try to more forward, but every once in a while, I go, oh, it's been a long year for me."

And hopefully for the Packers, Grant's year will get two weeks longer.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com

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