Grant's back, and just in time

The just-signed back's size and speed sets him apart from Jackson and the rest of the backfield

Maybe the gossip and the "thud" scrimmages are true and Brandon Jackson is indeed a different player.

Maybe he's not a one-hit wonder, and that Detroit game was a sneak peek at his potential on the field — which was manifested into a No. 1 back off of it.

Jackson speaks with more confidence. He runs with more burst. And he's earned regular genuine praise from his coaches for making one of the biggest one-year improvements in the weight room. It's all a 180-degree turn from the shell-shocked rookie squirting through the line for 2 yards and a cloud of dust last September.

Not enough ammo for the Packers to play hardball, though. Not enough to say bon voyage to Ryan Grant. Ted Thompson needed to cave at some point. As much as he may have liked to lowball Grant for one more year to truly see if he has Terrell Davis or Tatum Bell, Thompson knew the risk was far, far too high. The zone-blocking scheme can make fools of us all — i.e. post-Denver flameouts Bell (Tatum and Mike), Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary.

Did everything break perfectly for Grant last season?

The system.

Brett Favre's resurgence diverting defensive game plans.

The Big 5 wide receiver corps keeping a third and fourth cornerback on the field throughout games.

Yep, Grant waltzed into the Land of Oz last year. By Week 8, when Grant broke onto the scene, defenses had disregarded the Packers' rushing game to an Arena Football League level. Through the first six games, Green Bay passed the ball 65 percent of the time, and that other 35 percent was more to humor the other team than to keep them honest.

Defenses were bound to take the Packers' rushing game for granted. Figuring out the new, rejuvenated Favre and his pre-snap reads was hard enough. So, Grant ran wild.

But what happens after defenses have had an offseason to figure things out?

It's imperative the Packers' rushing game click into cruise control before Week 1. The cobwebs must be cleared before Minnesota's reigning No. 1 rush defense — boasted by the addition of Jared Allen — comes to town. It doesn't get easier. Tampa Bay and Dallas in Weeks 3 and 4 have top-10 defenses. Throw in the AFC South's feared front fours.

If Green Bay's rushing game begins half as bad as last season, playoff hopes could blow up sooner than expected.

Thompson could not risk repeating last fall. Jackson probably has shaken his September blues, but it's all speculation until he proves it in game action.

With Grant back, though, there is more than a month of practice to fine-tune the dominance that what was established last season. He cuts harder and with more conviction than any of the Packers' backs, and it's not even close. The linemen have another month — and four preseason games — to reassimilate with Grant's tempo.

Something special clicked between Grant and his line last season. His reckless, downhill, Ferrari-with-a-snow-plow style became perfect for Joe Philbin's rushing scheme. While Jackson has scat-back quickness, Vernand Morency has a nifty hop-step, Noah Herron's got the hands and DeShawn Wynn can turn a 2-yard loss into a 2-yard gain, Grant's blend of speed and violence is unparalleled.


Many running backs have experienced the late-season breakthrough. Any fantasy football champion will tell you so. Larry Johnson stepped in for an injured Priest Holmes to rush for 498 yards and eight touchdowns in his final five games. In 2002, rookie William Green won the hearts of fantasy freaks with 726 yards and five touchdowns in his final seven games. One became a workhorse, the other was out of the league in three seasons.  

In other words, sustained production is unpredictable. Grant's new fantasy football commercial only complicates matters. His resume has too much white space to make any judgments.

And this is where the deal makes sense. Both sides could agree on one thing: Grant needed another big season to warrant big-time dollars. Agent Alan Herman wanted an incentive-laden, mega-contract. Thompson wanted to sign away on a simple short-term tender as a precursor to big deal. Looks like Herman and Grant won, but at least the contract is driven by performance.

Grant's contract holdout has been nothing more than background music on a sports highlight.

With the four-year deal in place, the horses are lined up in the stables — and albeit one week too late — Big Brown is ready to run.

Tyler Dunne is a regular contributor to and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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