Grant Makes Another Run At 1,000

He came so close last year. Tantalizingly close. Ryan Grant heads into Sunday’s game in Jacksonville needing just 20 yards for his first 1,000-yard rushing season. Barring an unforeseen injury - and he’s played through plenty already this season - Grant will hit the fabled milestone and make the close call in 2007 just a footnote in his career. But it’s hard not to remember it now.


He came so close last year. Tantalizingly close.

Ryan Grant heads into Sunday's game in Jacksonville needing just 20 yards for his first 1,000-yard rushing season. Barring an unforeseen injury - and he's played through plenty already this season - Grant will hit the fabled milestone and make the close call in 2007 just a footnote in his career.

But it's hard not to remember it now. Heading into last year's regular-season finale, Grant needed 101 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. Facing the last-place Detroit Lions, he ripped off a 27-yard touchdown run on just his second carry, five minutes into the game, and seemed well on his way.

Then on the offense's second possession, the Packers were feeding Grant the ball with the target in sight. He carried four straight times, gaining 18 yards up the middle on the third of those jaunts, to put him more than halfway toward the day's goal.

But on the last of those four straight runs, Grant took a shot from Detroit linebacker Ernie Sims, stopping him for a 1-yard gain. His arm went a little numb, and he came to the sideline, hoping to shake it out.

He was fine, and ready to go back in on the next series, but the shoulder stinger had thrown up the caution flag. With the Packers' first-round playoff bye already secured and several starters resting against the Lions anyway, the coaching and medical staffs decided to hold Grant out.

His final numbers on the day - six carries, 57 yards. For the season - 956 yards, an impressive total considering he was the team's feature back for only 10 games. But it was 44 yards short, playing barely more than half a quarter in the last game, and that was a tough pill to swallow.

"I probably would have gotten it," Grant said, not needing to be reminded that his replacement, Brandon Jackson, rushed for 113 yards the rest of that day. "I felt like I was going to get it. But that's how it goes. That's the nature of what we do.

"Once they told me the situation, you look at the bigger picture, and I wanted to be able to go for the playoffs."

Grant can laugh about it a little now. It turned out he did something far more significant in Packers history during those playoffs, rushing for 201 yards and three touchdowns, both franchise postseason records, in the NFC Divisional win over Seattle. There's even a new glossy mural, among many commemorating the historic moments in team annals, in the hallway just outside the Packers' locker room with his full-color photo.

The postseason success helped set aside the regular-season disappointment, and re-affirmed that everything turned out for the best.

"When you're that close, you certainly want to go after it and get it," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. "But him not being a selfish player, again that speaks on his mindset as far as putting the team first. Team goals come first and winning comes first. That's what he's been about."


Bennett was the same kind of team player during his days in Green Bay, so much so that when he surpassed 1,000 yards for the first and only time in his career, he almost forgot to claim his keepsake.

In the second-to-last game of the 1995 regular season, the Packers were in New Orleans, and Bennett needed 70 yards for 1,000. It was a pretty big deal at the time, because the Packers had gone 17 years without a 1,000-yard rusher, since Terdell Middleton in 1978. That was by far the longest such drought for the Packers since Tony Canadeo became the franchise's first 1,000-yard back in 1949.

By early in the fourth quarter, Bennett had rushed for 50 yards (and caught passes for 70 more), and the Packers were embarking on a long, clock-killing drive to seal a playoff-berth clinching win.

Bennett's 13-yard run around right end got him real close, and then a 9-yard run around left end eclipsed the mark. Everyone was paying close attention to the numbers, except Bennett himself, so as the Green Bay sideline erupted in cheers, Bennett was caught off-guard.

"I remember the actual carry, and the guys pushed me forward to gain the extra yards," Bennett said. "I kind of was not into it, and I ended up giving the ball to the ref like on every normal carry. And then when it dawned on me, it was like, 'Whoa, whoa, I have to go back and get the ball.'

"So while the ref was spotting the ball, I went and grabbed the ball threw it to the sideline. I believe I was throwing it to LeRoy Butler and he got it to our trainers, and they stored it away for me."

Bennett was somewhat humbled, as well as honored, by the exited and energetic response of his teammates. As Grant's position coach, he has similar feelings for the next Green Bay back about to enter the club.


Even for a franchise nearly nine decades old, it remains a rather exclusive group. The Packers have had a 1,000-yard rusher in 19 different seasons, but the accomplishment belongs to just seven individuals - Canadeo (1), Jim Taylor (5), John Brockington (3), Middleton (1), Bennett (1), Dorsey Levens (2) and Ahman Green (6).

"It's special," Bennett said. "It means a lot to be included in that group, to be a 1,000-yard rusher, a Green Bay Packer 1,000-yard rusher."

{sportsad300}Though Grant says he wasn't worried, there was some wonder externally if he'd be able to get to 1,000 this season the way the season started. Battling a bum hamstring that had sidelined him for much of training camp, Grant got out of the gates slowly as he tried to get fully healthy.

Through six games, Grant had not topped 100 in any one game, and he had just 359 yards, averaging 3.4 yards per carry, dramatically below his 2007 average of 5.1.

But the last seven games his production has been more in line with the expectations that came with Grant's new contract in the offseason. He has three 100-yard games, and beginning with the Indianapolis game in Week 7, Grant has rushed for 621 yards and averaged a full yard per carry more than earlier this season, at 4.4.

"I think we're playing better, playing better fundamentally, finishing better," Grant said of the run game as a whole. "We do have to do more, though. We can do more and must do more. But I think we're playing more fundamentally sound."

To Grant's credit, he has taken care of his body with the proper diet, injury treatments, and rest and recovery to play in every game this season. Two weeks ago, he left the Carolina contest with a sprained thumb, but he came back last week against Houston to rush for 104 yards.

If he can play in all 16 games this season, that's an accomplishment in itself for a front-line NFL back, and it would help put him in an even more impressive position in the team record books. Only three backs in team history have topped 1,200 yards in a season - Taylor (2), Levens (1) and Green (3) - and Grant needs to average just 75 yards per game the rest of the way to get there.

But first, come Sunday, there's some unfinished business Grant's been waiting a year to take care of.

"It's the mark that I think every back wants to get," Grant said. "I think it means a lot to the whole backfield, to the linemen, to everybody. I know the fullbacks are excited, the running backs are excited. It is an accomplishment, a landmark that you want to hit, and we expect to surpass that.

"I didn't get it last year, so I want to get it this year. But I want to get even more than that. The goals this year are higher."

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