Packers Get Scary Look At Life Without Grant

With Ryan Grant out with a concussion, former second-round pick Brandon Jackson got the bulk of the work on Monday. The coaches say they have all the confidence in the world in Jackson, but their actions over the last three years speak differently.

The Green Bay Packers got a fleeting look at what life would be without Ryan Grant during Saturday's preseason game and at Monday's practice.

Coach Mike McCarthy said he's not worried.

"Brandon Jackson to me is an every-down back," McCarthy said after Monday's practice. "I have no problem with that. Really the last hurdle he needed to overcome was on third down. He accomplished that last year, in my opinion. You're seeing him not only third downs but in special teams. Brandon Jackson is a good special teams player, too. He's a complete football player, and if we had to play all three downs with him, I wouldn't even blink."

Brandon Jackson said there's no reason to worry.

"I want to show them that when Ryan Grant's out, I can keep the production going," Jackson said after he and Quinn Porter were the only healthy backs at Monday's practice. "They have a lot of trust in me that I can get the job done. Just coming out with confidence and knowing what to do, and everything's going to be all right."

The evidence, however, suggests that not everything would be all right.

While Jackson has molded himself into arguably the best pass-blocking running back in the NFL — just ask anyone affiliated with the Steelers what they think of Jackson — he just hasn't been elusive or explosive with the ball in his hands.

Jackson won the starting job as a rookie second-round pick in 2007. He started the first two games but wasn't productive, and by the time he returned from a monthlong absence with a shin injury, Grant had solidified himself as the marquee running back.

To be sure, Jackson has had a few moments that suggest he could carry the load. In the 2007 finale against Detroit, he rushed for 113 yards, with a career-long run of 46 yards. In 2008, he rushed for 71 yards (8.7 average) against Detroit and 80 yards (7.3 average) against Carolina. Last season, he scored three times against Seattle, including a 13-yarder for his first career regular-season touchdown reception.

But while the coaches will deny it until blue in the face, Jackson's decreasing touches speak louder than their words. As a rookie, he carried the ball 75 times with 16 receptions for 91 touches in 11 games, or 8.3 per game. In 2008, he had 45 carries and 30 receptions for 75 touches in 13 games, or 5.8 touches per game. Last year, he had 37 rushes and 21 receptions for 58 touches in 12 games, or 4.8 touches per game. Midseason addition Ahman Green supplanted Jackson as the No. 2 ball-carrier, with 41 carries in eight games.

Hoping to earn a larger role this year, Jackson rededicated himself during the offseason at the urging of his wife, Brandy.

"My wife told me you have to do something different or you're going to get the same results," Jackson said.

That meant a healthier diet and a more intense training regimen while not in Green Bay. At 5-foot-10 and 216 pounds, Jackson is listed at the same weight as last year. The difference is he swapped fat for muscle.

"It's a big difference, a big turnaround for me," he said. "I have more wind, feel like I'm more physical and just getting up and down the field, my burst."

Not that Saturday's preseason is a fair indicator, but it looked like the same old Jackson. He carried three times for 6 yards, along with an 11-yard reception on a screen. Jackson only rarely has shown much creativity with the ball in his hands. He lacks that make-you-miss ability that the top third-down backs use when in the open field. And he lacks the power to consistently break tackles. He averaged a paltry 3.0 yards per carry last year, compared with 4.4 for Grant and 3.9 for Green.

To be fair, that ability to make something out of nothing typically happens after a back gets into the flow of the game. Jackson had double-digits touches just once last year, with his 10 against Dallas coming on four carries and six receptions. In seven games, he got the ball four times or less.

"It's all about how I carry myself and how I go out and when I get the amount of carries I get," Jackson said. "Just showing productivity, just getting good gains and doing what I'm supposed to do and the runs will come."

The Packers had better hope so. For two years, they've lived on the edge with Grant, who has carried the ball on a league-high 79.4 percent of all rushes (excluding the quarterbacks). Grant has been practically indestructible and has excelled despite the heavy workload, with 4.2 yards per carry in the first eight games of last season compared to 4.6 in the second eight games.

Saturday's game, however, shows that Grant isn't immune to injury. If that were to happen in the regular season, there would be two options: Let Jackson get those 20 carries or just chuck the ball all over the yard.

"It would be real fun," Jackson said of those 20 carries. "I'm up for the challenge. Basically, it goes down to whatever it takes to help the team. When Ryan goes out, I come in and just make it seem like nothing's missing."

In other words, be more productive than he's ever been during his career. Saying it and doing it are two different things, of course. Just like McCarthy saying he wouldn't blink and not blinking are two different things.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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