GREEN BAY - On their final practice of Week 16, the Green Bay Packers remained as healthy as ever.
Their opponents this week, the rival Minnesota Vikings, certainly were not.
In advance of Monday night’s showdown that could clinch the NFC North title for the Packers, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook was ruled out with a shoulder injury. Backup Alexander Mattison, who has a high-ankle sprain, was limited in practice but did participate for the first time this week. He was listed as questionable.
Cook is a Pro Bowler this year with 1,135 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns and 519 receiving yards on 53 catches. He had 20 carries for a season-high 154 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run, in the Vikings’ trip to the Packers in Week 2.
“He’s obviously an amazing player,” Packers linebacker Blake Martinez said Saturday. “I think their other backs are really good. They’re still able to do their whole offense. I think with him out, it kind of can give little tells here and there on who’s in and what they’re trying to do. So it definitely helps in that aspect.”
Before their Week 2 matchup, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said Cook was key to stopping the Vikings offense. Now, the Packers won’t have to.
Martinez said he spent time preparing for Cook this week, but now that there’s no chance of him playing, the mindset shifts.
“It’s one of those things where you go into a game expecting everybody is going to play until it’s solidified,” Martinez said. “He’s out. So now it’s solidified. It’s one of those things where you can prepare your mindset a different way now.”
The Packers have every player on their 53-man roster practice Saturday except backup tackle Yosh Nijman. On Friday, the Packers added Nijman to the injury report with an elbow injury. His left arm was in a sling Saturday.
Grant awaits chance
Wide receiver Ryan Grant has been on the Green Bay Packers' roster for eight games, and yet he doesn’t need any of his fingers to count how many snaps he has had this season.
Grant, a sixth-year pro who was signed Oct. 16 as a street free agent after Davante Adams suffered a turf-toe injury, has been inactive for every game since arriving.
It might seem like a mystery to those who have noticed the lack of production from the young receivers, but the bottom line appears to be that the coaching staff isn’t willing to activate Grant on game day over Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
The leading candidate to sit would be Valdes-Scantling, who has two catches for 11 yards in the last nine games and let what might have been a 70-yard touchdown slip through his hands on the Packers’ first play of the 21-13 victory over Chicago last Sunday. He has played an average of 15 snaps over the past five games, mostly it seems because his blazing speed provides a downfield threat.
The 6-foot, 199-pound Grant has played in 82 games (26 starts) in his career because he has excellent hands, can play multiple positions and succeeded on special teams in stops with Washington, Indianapolis and Oakland. But he doesn’t have exceptional speed.
Washington drafted him in the fifth round out of Tulane in 2014. He has 123 catches for 1,333 yards (10.8 average) and seven touchdowns in his career.
The Packers signed him three weeks after the Raiders cut him because they knew he could play right away. He started the opener for Oakland a season after starting 10 games for the Colts, but the Packers never called on him during the four games Adams missed.
He has sat patiently waiting for an opportunity.
“I just come in the building and every time I step in here, I try to be at my best,” Grant said. “I try not to get discouraged. I feel like I’m here for a reason, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.
“So, I just take it one day at a time. I’m always ready.”
Asked if he regretted signing with the Packers, Grant said no.
“I worked out for the Patriots and I worked out for the Vikings and I worked out here,” Grant said. “I didn’t want to go to those other teams. I wanted to come here, and thankfully the Green Bay Packers gave me an opportunity.”
Well, sort of.
Grant receives a weekly salary of $47,353, which is great, but he would rather play in games than serve on the scout team each week. His only reps with the offense come during installs, which are typically walk-throughs.
Grant said he hasn’t asked why he’s not playing.
“I try not to get too involved,” he said. “I don’t go out of my way to ask questions. I just know that if the opportunity presents itself I’ll be ready. So, it is what it is. I’m a pro. I’m happy to be here. Anyway, I can help out, I’m willing to do that.”
Packers wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted repeated what coach Matt LaFleur has said: It’s a numbers game.
“Ryan's a talented individual, he's a six-year player,” Whitted said. “He's actually been associated with the system before. I just think again, we’ve got a lot of guys. When the time comes, he'll be ready.”
Summers playing a special role
As a seventh-round pick last April, inside linebacker Ty Summers knew it was going to be difficult to make the team, let alone get on the field.
But 14 games into his career, he has played a team-leading 267 special teams snaps, which means he has been on the field more than every draft choice except safety Darnell Savage and guard Elgton Jenkins.
“It’s just giving me the confidence to know I can play here, that I can block these guys or I can tackle these guys,” Summers said. “It’s a little taste. It’s also a teaser, too, because I’m real excited for the opportunity I do get at some point to get on the field as a defensive player. I think it’s a good stepping stone.”
Summers ranks tied for third with Lazard and fullback Danny Vitale with seven special teams tackles, two behind team leader Will Redmond. Though he has yet to play a snap on defense, he has come to embrace the special teams role.
He didn’t have to play them much his final two years at TCU.
“I’ve never really enjoyed special teams until I got here, where I’m doing it for a living,” Summers said. “That’s my role now. I’m making the most of it. I’m having fun doing it.
“If I was frustrated that I was just playing special teams I wouldn’t be like that. As long as I have a good attitude, I’m sure that maybe they’ll trust me at some point to be on the field.”