Grant ready to shift into high gear

The running back thinks he's finally over a hamstring that has plagued him since the start of camp. His hoped-for re-emergence comes at a good time for a short-handed offense.

Can a season-changing play happen during a midweek practice?

Perhaps.

Speaking to reporters after Thursday's practice, running back Ryan Grant recalled a catch he made on Wednesday.

"I took off on a go route on a motion yesterday at practice to catch up to a ball," Grant said. "I had to open up and get it, and when I came back, (running backs coach Edgar Bennett) was like, ‘Uh, I don't know.' I was like ‘I caught it.' The fact that, naturally, my mind just took me there and I was able to do it, that's a good thing. Without thought, I'm able to open up and do different things, and that's better."

That's certainly good news for the Packers. Grant, the Packers' big-money, big-play halfback, didn't carry the ball during the preseason, and was limited to one practice a week before the first three games of the regular season.

Grant looked more explosive against Dallas, and is practicing this week without limitations.

"It's encouraging to see Ryan Grant out there taking all his reps," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I think he's put together two solid practices. He needs reps just like everybody else. It's been great to have him healthy and feeling good the next day, so we'll continue to proceed (Friday) the same way, as long as he feels well in the morning."

Grant's hoped-for re-emergence comes at a critical time. The Packers likely won't have No. 3 halfback Kregg Lumpkin for this week as the rookie battles his own hamstring troubles. So, Green Bay heads to steamy Tampa Bay (2-1) for a showdown with the Buccaneers short-handed, fresh off of a loss, and facing a defense with a track record of making life miserable for Brett Favre and with Dallas' winning game plan against Aaron Rodgers available on the game tape.

Grant says he's ready for a 20-carry load, which would help an offense that faced too many third-and-longs last week against Dallas. Rodgers cited improved third-down play as a focus this week to help the defense stay fresh against a Tampa Bay attack that went no-huddle in its pass-happy win over Chicago last week. The Packers wilted against Dallas' physical attack last week, and a high of 87 is expected for Sunday.

"This is the best I've felt, definitely," Grant said. "I don't feel it (the hamstring) and I don't think about it at practice. There were some runs (at practice) where I tried to get a little more. Initially when I would practice, it was really kind of frustrating just because the coaches would tell me to manage it. They don't really want me to open it too hard. So, I feel like I'm not really opening it up on some of my runs, but I'm able to move a little more and react a little faster. Before, I felt like I was all at the same speed."

Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden is impressed with the duo of Grant and Brandon Jackson, calling the Packers' run game "a handful."

"They use their tight ends creatively. Sometimes, you'll see two fullbacks in the backfield and sometimes they're in a one-back set," Gruden told reporters in Tampa on Thursday. "Aaron Rodgers' mobility makes him a double-edged sword. They're a very talented offensive team. They deserve a lot of credit in how they put it together."

If McCarthy creates a winning game plan this week, he'll deserve even more credit. There's a good chance fullback Korey Hall won't be available, either, so the Packers could head to Tampa with Grant, Jackson and fullback John Kuhn as the only backs.

"We'll make do with what we have," McCarthy said.

Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com


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