Packers notes: Speedy RB Grant, former Wisconsin DL Sagapolu getting a look
GREEN BAY - Under the previous regime, there wasn’t much desire for a running back like Corey Grant.
At 5-9 and 208 pounds, Grant was the prototypical undersized speed back coming out of Auburn in 2015 and the Green Bay Packers weren’t interested in straight-line runners who relied more on 40-yard dash time than open-field moves.
Under new coach Matt LaFleur, the Packers still seek sharp cutters for their outside zone, but there is room for someone who can outrun everyone to the edge and make something big out of swing passes and screens.
Grant ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds at Auburn’s pro day in 2015 and he showed some of his breakaway ability in four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He started only two games, but averaged 5.6 yards per carry on 81 attempts, caught 18 passes for 156 yards and returned 41 kickoffs for a 23.6-yard average.
General manager Brian Gutekunst has been on the lookout for another back after releasing Kapri Bibbs on June 14 and had kept an eye on Grant, an unrestricted free agent. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett served as a recruiter when Grant started to draw interest around the NFL.
“You know, other than the fact that Nathaniel Hackett had him at Jacksonville and I know he’s really, really fast,” LaFleur said of what he knew of Grant. “He seems like a great guy and I’m anxious t get a chance to see him develop.”
Hackett was a quarterbacks coach and later offensive coordinator during Grants four seasons in Jacksonville and had his most successful year in 2017 (30 carries for 248 yards and two touchdowns) when Hackett was calling plays for the Jaguars.
Grant said he got a call from the Packers on Tuesday, flew to Washington for a workout Wednesday and then flew to Green Bay on Thursday. After talking with Hackett, Grant decided the best place for him was with the Packers.
“With him being here and the success we had in the past, that was the icing on the cake,” said Grant, who finished the 2018 season on injured reserve with a Lisfranc injury.
The Packers have full-time options in Aaron Jones, Jamal Williams, Dexter Williams and Tra Carson, but the chance to add someone who could add speed both to the offense and special teams was something Gutekunst wanted to explore.
The Packers had an open roster spot due to the release of defensive tackle Mike Daniels this week.
However, adding Grant wasn’t their only move.
Gutekunst signed former Wisconsin nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, a 6-1 1/2, 331-pound undrafted free agent who has been recovering from right rotator cuff surgery. In four seasons in Madison, he played in 44 games with 26 starts, totaling 61 tackles (31 solo), 10 tackles for loss, six sacks and an interception.
He injured his shoulder in October and spent the last nine months rehabbing in the hopes of being ready for the start of training camp. He had no idea when or if the calls would start coming, but the Packers decided he was worth looking at even though he’s still not 100%.”
“I’m very thankful to this organization for taking a chance on me,” Sagapolu said. “So, the best thing I can do is take each day, take each rep, take advantage of it and just have fun. Give everything I have and learn from it, learn from the guys who have been here before and just try to do everything I can.”
Though he’s new to the team, there were quite a few players who recognized Sagapolu from a YouTube video in which he does a standing backflip on the beach. At 331 pounds, it was an impressive feat and not unfamiliar to a lot of fellow big men.
“A lot of them kind of recognized me,” he said. “A lot of them kind of asked, ‘Are you the big guy, right? I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I guess that’s pretty cool in a sense. You’re the big guy that does the flips. So, yeah, take it with a grain of salt.”
Mike Daniels lands with Lions
The Detroit Lions have spent the past year building one of the best defensive lines in football, and they're not done yet.
The Lions agreed to a one-year deal Friday with free-agent defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who was released earlier this week by the Packers.
Daniels missed six games last season with a foot injury and tied his career-low with two sacks, but the 30-year-old was one of the best interior linemen in the NFL at the height of his career, making the Pro Bowl in 2017.
Daniels adds depth and experience to an already deep defensive line.
Adrian Amos flashes coverage skills
Packers safety Adrian Amos, perhaps known more for his play close to the line of scrimmage, flashed his coverage ability in Friday’s practice.
He was covering Davante Adams on a deep crossing pattern to the left side of the field as Aaron Rodgers rolled out of the pocket right. It’s the type of throw most quarterbacks don’t even attempt, Amos said. So excuse the veteran safety if he eased ever so slightly, allowing Adams to separate a couple steps past him.
With Rodgers’ pass in midair, Amos was beaten. The throw was perfect, hitting Adams in the hands. Just as Adams attempted to secure the catch, Amos had recovered enough to knock the football free, incomplete.
“He crossed my face,” Amos said, “and I just tried to recover. Because he had a couple steps on me, so just try to recover and get the late run.”
It isn’t the first time Amos, a former Chicago Bears safety, has seen Rodgers attempt the incredible. He said his history with the quarterback helped him stay more aware than perhaps he otherwise would have been, knowing Rodgers is the rare passer who would attempt such a throw.
Even still, Amos flashed the type of coverage instincts the Packers sorely lacked on the back end of their defense last season. They drafted Darnell Savage Jr. because of his ability to cover deep, but Amos showed Friday he’s also capable.
“Just run and don’t panic,” Amos said. “You don’t want to get a PI (pass interference). A lot of people get a PI in that situation when you’re recovering, because if you don’t get back you can’t touch the receiver, or that’s a PI. So we just have to wait and play through the hands and try to make a play.”
Rashan Gary an ‘athlete’
Rashan Gary spent most of the first two days in Packers camp standing up at outside linebacker, but it might only be a matter of time until his reps diversify.
In the wake of Daniels’ release this week, more snaps along the defensive line are available. Gary, the Packers’ 12th overall pick in last spring’s draft, knows he could split his time at outside linebacker and defensive line. Asked Friday which position he considers himself, Gary split the middle – almost.
“I’m an athlete,” Gary said. “I don’t know how else to put it. I feel like whatever the coach wants me to do, I could do it.”
Then Gary specified: “But I’m an outside linebacker.”
In the Packers’ base defense, which the team has primarily employed through the early portion of camp, Gary has lined up at outside linebacker behind veterans Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. He could drop inside as an interior rusher in sub-package defenses, filling a void after Daniels’ departure.
“If coach wants me to play the three (technique defensive tackle),” Gary said, “then I’m going to go rush at the three. If you want me to stay outside, keep rushing outside, that’s what I’m about to do. Day by day, I’ve just been working on perfecting my craft and becoming the best I can for this team.”
No rain, no gain
Despite a light rain that caused wet field conditions, LaFleur conducted Friday’s entire two-hour, 12-minute practice outdoors.
LaFleur scoffed when asked whether he considered moving practice inside the Don Hutson Center.
“You guys call that rain?” LaFleur said. “Come on. That wasn’t rain. That was a drizzle. Last time I checked, this is football. And I’m sure we’re going to play in some elements up here in Green Bay. So unless it’s going to be a situation that’s going to put our guys at risk, we’re going to be outside.”
Outside linebacker Kendall Donnerson became the first casualty of training camp, dropping out of the workout Friday with a hamstring injury.
LaFleur gave no timetable for a return.
The Packers completed their two days of required work without pads and will dress in partial pads Saturday and then start full pads Sunday. Both open practices begin at 10:15 a.m. at Ray Nitschke Field.
The Detroit Free-Press contributed to this report.