Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant sprints for an 80 yard touchdown reception in the second quarter Jan. 1 against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. / Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette
This is like old home week for Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant.
He will be facing his former team, the New York Giants, in an NFC divisional playoff game Sunday at Lambeau Field, and attempting to elude his best friend and offseason New Jersey neighbor, Giants defensive end Justin Tuck.
Grant is hungry for a taste of playoff action after a season-ending ankle injury in September 2010 took him out of the Packers’ eventual Super Bowl championship run.
But despite the personal nature of this matchup, Grant isn’t treating this game any differently.
Yes, a berth in the NFC championship game is at stake, but Grant will take the same measured approach he uses to prepare for every game.
The fifth-year running back prides himself on practicing like he plays and being a team leader.
“He’s a guy that I think other players in the locker room look up to because he does things the right way, and he’s on board with the direction this team is going,” said Packers running backs coach Jerry Fontenot.
“It’s all about winning. That’s where Ryan Grant stands.”
Grant will do whatever is asked of him with no complaint.
In the season prior to his injury, Grant rushed 282 times for 1,253 yards. He returned as the starter this season but shared duties with James Starks and had 134 rushes for 559 yards.
A selfish player might have sulked over that drastically reduced workload, but that’s not how Grant operates.
“Roles change, everybody recognizes that,” Grant said.
“I’m not a coach, I’m a player. You do what’s asked of you. At the same time, the coach does a good job of putting us in the best situation, and we’re 15-1. So it’s worked, evidently.”
The Giants traded Grant for a sixth-round draft choice prior to the 2007 season. It was a steal for the Packers after Grant rushed for 3,412 yards in his first three seasons here. He joined Jim Taylor and Ahman Green as the only Packers running backs to rush for more than 1,200 yards in consecutive seasons.
Although his role on the field isn’t as large anymore, Grant contributes in a variety of other ways.
“He’s a stud individual,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy this week. “He has a strong presence in our locker room. He’s definitely one of our strongest personalities, just a blue collar, workmanlike approach to everything he does.”
Said Grant in response: “I think I’ve been pretty consistent in who I am and what I’m about. I think people see that. If that’s how they look at me, I’m cool with that, I’m OK with that. I think they respect me. That’s my biggest thing, having the respect of guys in this locker room and the coaches.”
Grant is quick to offer advice to Starks, even if the second-year running back has taken about half of Grant’s rushing attempts this season. During his rookie year with the Giants, Grant received similar help from veteran Tiki Barber, so he in turn won’t hesitate to pass along his knowledge to Starks.
“He’s always helping me,” Starks said. “There’s a lot he taught me.
“I don’t think there will ever be tension between us. (He’s) like my brother.”
Grant will become an unrestricted free agent following the season, and at age 29, his future is unknown.
If this is his final season in Green Bay, Grant can walk away with his head held high after leaving an indelible mark.
“He’s a pure professional,” Fontenot said. “Ryan comes to work every single day. He doesn’t complain about anything. … He’s going to take every single rep you want him to take, and he’s going to finish everything the way you want him to finish it.”
It’s hard to ask for more out of any employee.
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