Rookie Crockett takes opportunity, runs with it

Stu Courtney
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Green Bay Packers running back John Crockett (38) gets by Detroit Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) while making a run during their Dec. 3 game at Ford Field.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time: That was John Crockett in Detroit on Dec. 3.

The Green Bay Packers rookie running back traveled with the team for the Thursday night game only because he had been named a practice squad player of the week. And that’s why he was available to play when the Packers decided to release backup running back Alonzo Harris for missing curfew (along with starter Eddie Lacy) the previous night.

Crockett made the most of his opportunity. With the Green Bay ground game going nowhere and the Packers trailing the Lions 17-0 at halftime, the Packers turned to Crockett in the third quarter. Making his NFL debut, Crockett carried three times for 16 yards on the Packers’ first drive, which resulted in a touchdown and got them back in the game. The 6-foot, 217-pound back finished with 22 yards on five carries as the Packers rallied to beat the Lions 27-23 on a final-play Hail Mary pass.

The Packers like what they’ve seen from Crockett, an undrafted free agent who gained 5,151 all-purpose yards in 46 games over three seasons at North Dakota State.

“He can do a lot of things,” Packers running backs coach Sam Gash said. “He catches the ball well, he’s solid in protection techniques and he runs the ball extremely good and physical and violent. Everything that you want. But he is a rookie, still learning and has a ways to go.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy praised Crockett after the Lions game for his “unbelievable energy. He puts a lot of time in. He’s got his nose in his playbook, the way it should be.”

Gash said Crockett’s energy and enthusiasm are things that can’t be taught.

“If you have to try to teach that, then you’ve probably got the wrong guy,” Gash said.  “Your attitude and effort is everything. I always tell people, “Make them say your name once a day. Make them say 'wow,' and he does that just by his enthusiasm and his effort on the field.”

Slowed by a sprained ankle during training camp, Crockett didn’t make the final cut for the 53-man roster but eagerly accepted a practice-squad opportunity. And that opportunity turned golden in Detroit.

Crockett sat down recently with Press-Gazette Media to discuss sharing a huddle with Aaron Rodgers and his role with the team:

What was it like finding out you’d been added to the active roster in Detroit?

It was kind of surreal because it happened so fast, I was like, “Really? Today? OK, I’m here, let’s do it.” It was definitely a blessing and a dream come true.

How nervous were you?

It was one of those moments that you’ve been preparing for and when it happens, just live for the moment.

What was that first carry like? What was the reaction from your teammates in the huddle?

The biggest thing is, I was in there with No. 12. That was one of those moments when it was like, “Oh, this is pretty cool right here.”  Just seeing all the guys, seeing “Big Sitton” right there in front of you, knowing they’re going to protect you. It was a blast. I just had a good time out there.”

Did it convince you that you can play in the NFL, or did you always think that?

When I stepped out there, I felt very confident. I’d been preparing for that moment for a while. Those kind of butterflies of playing in the NFL and all that are kind of gone. At the end of the day, it was still surreal to get in there for the first time.

How would you describe your running style?

I feel like I bring a little piece of everything. I’m really shifty out of the backfield, I’ve got good feet, I’m explosive and I also like to run between the tackles. Good hands out of the backfield, that’s kind of like my game.

How did you rack up those numbers in college? Three straight 1,000-yard seasons and you didn’t even start till your senior year? Why weren’t you drafted?

I just felt like it was a really deep running backs class. These guys were putting up numbers like I was putting up in mid-level. So I understand, but I felt like I should have been drafted, I felt like I was one of the best running backs in the 2015-16 class. It just didn’t happen that way.

How do you feel about winding up in Green Bay?

They were one of the first people to call. I’m definitely happy that I am where I am. I felt like this was the best fit. It reminds me so much of college — it’s a winning atmosphere and that’s something I like to do, is win.

Mike McCarthy said you’re always enthusiastic, upbeat, full of energy. Does that come naturally for you?

Yeah, that’s always been me.

Is that how you got the nickname “Taz”?

Third grade, a person who was like a dad to me gave me that nickname because I was in a basketball tournament and running all over the place getting rebounds, and he was like, “You’re like a Tasmanian devil.” And it just stuck. I love it.

McCarthy also said your nose is always in the playbook. How important is that?

You never know when your time is going to come, you never know what’s going to happen and you don’t want to not be prepared. This is your job, this is what you do and the quickest way for you to get on the field and be successful is to learn what you have to do. That’s the mental aspect of the game.

How do you approach your role on special teams?

Just learning the small crafts of being a good special teams player. That’s one of the biggest facets of the game. It can change the whole trajectory of a game just with one simple play.

You’re from Minneapolis? Did you grow up as a Vikings fan?

I wasn’t! I didn’t really have a “home” team. I knew what I wanted to do so I didn’t want to get attached to anybody. But my family and friends, yeah, they’re definitely big time into it.

What do you like to do away from the field?

I’m kind of a movie guy. I like to watch movies, play video games, things of that nature. Just hang out, relax, chill, talk.

Will you go see “Concussion”?

No, I’m not going to see that. I know it’s going to be a great movie because Will Smith is one of my favorite actors, but it’s too close to where I work. I don’t want anything to conflict with that. I don’t want to think about it. I want to just keep playing this game the way I’ve been playing it. and follow him on Twitter @Stucourt

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