Milestone rushing total means little to Grant

The halfback needs to rush for only 20 yards to surpass 1,000 yards, but he has not been a big-play machine like last year, when he averaged a whopping 5.1 yards per carry.

Ryan Grant ranks 10th in the NFL in rushing, a figure that should give him status as one of the league's top running backs.

Instead, Grant is the first to agree with his critics that he's having a disappointing season.

Grant, with 980 rushing yards heading into Sunday's game at Jacksonville, likely will become just the eighth player in Packers history to reach 1,000 yards in a season. But it's taken Grant 13 games and 247 carries to rush for those 980 yards. Last year, when Grant came out of nowhere to rescue a horrid running game, Grant rushed for 956 yards, including 929 yards in 10 games as the featured running back.

The big difference? Big plays, or the lack thereof.

Last year, Grant averaged 5.1 yards per rush. In his 10 regular-season games as the featured back, Grant broke a run of 22 yards or longer in nine of them, including touchdown runs of 27, 30, 62 and 66 yards. This year, Grant — who signed a four-year, $30 million contract early in training camp after skipping offseason practices — is averaging 4.0 yards per rush. He's popped a run of 22 yards or longer in just three games, and he hasn't popped a long touchdown run yet.

"It's frustrating on all accounts," Grant said.

Part of the reason for the decreased production is a hamstring injury that prevented Grant from carrying the ball even once in the preseason. Thus, his first four regular-season games were in effect his preseason. While he rushed 12 times for 92 yards (7.7 average) in the opener against Minnesota, Grant followed that with 15 carries for 20 yards (1.3 average) vs. Detroit, 13 carries for 54 yards (4.2 average) vs. Dallas and 15 carries for 20 yards (1.3 average) vs. Tampa Bay.

Grant's been healthy for weeks, but the extraordinary vision he showed last season hasn't been this year. Nor has the ability to run past, around or through the last line of defense, which he did so often last season. And he still hasn't developed as a receiver.

On the other side of the coin, Grant has been a willing, hard-running workhorse. He's averaged at least 4.3 yards per carry in four of the last six games and he's scored in three of the last five games.

And while the monster gains haven't been there, he's popped a number of runs in the 10- to 17-yard range. In last week's loss against Houston, Grant helped spearhead the Packers' second-half rally with his third 100-yard game in the last seven weeks.

"I think Ryan Grant, a lot like our run-blocking unit (the last) five, six weeks or so, we're definitely running the football the way we're supposed to run it," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "As far as the way the back is fitting with the run-blocking unit, the ability to get up on the second level. I think our perimeter blocking has picked up. So, I would say Ryan, alongside with the whole run game, has definitely played much better in the last six weeks than probably the first six weeks."

For Grant, though, the accomplishments ring hollow. He expected more of himself and from the team after both he and the club came out of nowhere last year. And while he's eager to reach the milestone for his linemen and fullbacks, he knows it means little in such a disappointing season for the team.

"It's hard to digest," Grant said. "I'm a winner. Expectations are high. I think we should have expectations, and I know mine's very high for the team as well as myself. When you're not performing at that high level, it's frustration."

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com.


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