GREEN BAY – It’s not that the Green Bay Packers are adverse to lining up a big-bodied receiver in the slot.
Late in his career, Jordy Nelson (6-foot-3) made his living in the middle of the field. Davante Adams (6-1) has shredded defenses inside as recently as Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings. Both receivers are long and, at 215 pounds apiece, ideally suited for the perimeter of the field, where they can beat press-man coverage.
“Over the years,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “we have had big bodies from that spot. Jordy did it for years playing the slot receiver. Davante has done it before. Greg Jennings worked in the slot at times when he was here. So it doesn’t really matter about the body type. It’s really about the production, and that certain player.”
The Packers tried this season to make Geronimo Allison (6-3, 205) their latest big-bodied receiver to produce out of the slot. Allison, who has proven production on the perimeter in his career, dropped inside this season after the Packers chose not to re-sign Randall Cobb. The results haven’t been what he or the offense could’ve hoped.
After 20 catches for 303 yards in five games before going on injured reserve last season, Allison has just 13 catches for 144 yards in six games this fall. Indeed, consistent slot production has been lacking, a problem considering coach Matt LaFleur’s offense relies heavily both on crossing patterns underneath, and lateral, pre-snap motions.
The Packers tried to fill that hole once again Wednesday, signing receiver Ryan Grant. A veteran joining his fourth team, Grant most recently played two games this season with the Oakland Raiders, whom the Packers will host Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“If he can bring some ability to the slot,” Rodgers said, “that really gives us another weapon there.”
Grant, whom the Raiders released in late September, was drafted in the fifth round by Washington in 2014. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 2018. Grant is 6-foot, 195 pounds and, though capable of playing on the perimeter, is ideally suited for the slot. He has trained with Adams in the past, and Rodgers said he has heard good things from his top receiver about Grant’s route running.
Grant caught 35 passes for 334 yards in 14 games with the Colts last season. He had career highs with 45 catches, 573 yards and four touchdowns with Washington in 2017.
Coach Matt LaFleur’s plans for Grant will be interesting. He’s a smooth athlete, but not particularly fast, running a 4.64 40 at the NFL scouting combine in 2014. One scout said Grant is a “savvy” route runner from the slot, and he has dependable hands.
“I don’t know a lot about his skills,” Rodgers said. “I haven’t seen a ton of film on him, but I do know he’s been productive over the years.”
Grant said he flew into Green Bay on Tuesday night. He took a physical and, afterward, signed his contract Wednesday morning. He’ll only have four days to prepare for his former team and, as Rodgers noted, getting him up to speed is a priority this week. His familiarity with the scheme – Sean McVay, a close friend and former colleague of LaFleur's, was Washington’s offensive coordinator in Grant’s first three seasons – should help him make a quick transition.
He’ll also see a familiar face in Adams. The two entered the NFL in the same year. Now, they’ll be separated by only a couple locker stalls.
“We have some of the same fundamentals in our game,” Grant said, “and working out with an All-Pro receiver is always positive.”
Grant said he worked out with the Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots and Packers last week. He liked Green Bay’s small-town vibe, an environment he said is tailored to focusing on the game. Most of all, he’s pleased to have a new job.
These past few weeks, waiting for another opportunity to open in the league, were not easy.
“It was different, man,” Grant said. “It was kind of weird, just being at home, watching football on Sunday instead of actually being on the field. I was able to go home and hang out with my wife, get some things taken care of that needed to be taken care of, and I’m just thankful and fortunate and grateful for this opportunity.”
The Packers might be getting additional reinforcements to their 53-man roster in coming weeks.
They used one of their two return designations on rookie tight end Jace Sternberger, who was placed on injured reserve because of ankle and jaw injuries at the start of the season. Sternberger has only had 13 days of practice since the start of training camp, so it’s unlikely he’ll be a significant contributor this season.
Still, the Packers need their third-round pick to further develop, and the only way to do that is in practice. Sternberger would not have been able to practice had he remained on IR.
The Packers are also returning safety Ibraheim Campbell to practice. Campbell, who was signed midway through camp, started the season on the physically unable to perform list as he recovered from a torn ACL. Campbell played three games for the Packers last season, and has played for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine in the past with Cleveland.
Sternberger and Campbell will have three weeks to practice before the Packers must make a decision on whether to add them on the active roster. If they aren’t added to the 53 at the end of the three-week window, they revert to IR and PUP, respectively.
More roster shuffling
To clear room on the roster for Grant, the Packers released running back Tra Carson for the second time this year.
They originally placed Carson on their practice squad after waiving him following training camp. Carson was promoted to the 53-man roster before the Packers’ trip to Dallas, elevated above rookie Dexter Williams because of his reliability as a pass blocker.
The Packers have stayed patient with Williams as he develops because they believe in the rookie’s talent. They drafted Williams in the sixth round this spring, projecting his one-cut, slashing style of running to be an ideal fit in LaFleur’s outside-zone scheme. So despite being inactive for every game this season, Williams still figures more into the Packers’ long-term plans than Carson.
It remains to be seen whether the Packers will retain Carson to the practice squad. He has 24 hours to clear waivers before being eligible. But the Packers appeared to guard themselves against the possibility Carson won’t return, signing running back Damarea Crockett. An undrafted rookie, Crockett spent the offseason with the Houston Texans, who released him following training camp. Crockett spent the past six weeks with the Raiders, who released him Monday.
The Packers also signed cornerback Tremon Smith to their practice squad. Smith was claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this season, but the Packers released him Monday to make room on their active roster for tight end Evan Baylis. The move gave the Packers three tight ends for the Monday night game against the Detroit Lions with Robert Tonyan out because of a bruised hip, but it cost them their kickoff returner.
Regardless, the Packers were able to retain Smith in the organization after he cleared waivers. They released tight end Ethan Wolf from the practice squad to make room.