JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—In the NFL, speed can win you a lot of battles.
Unfortunately for some players, they can be pegged as being one-note speedsters without the ability to step up in key roles. Jaguars second-year running back Corey Grant doesn't want to be one of those players.
Dubbed "Tail Lights" at Auburn due to his ability to break away from the opposition with lightning speed, Grant entered the league as an undrafted free agent. The Jaguars put him at kick returner and he proved early on that he was capable of being dynamic with the ball in hands.
Grant was like a human pinball during his initial offseason as he surged up-field, bouncing off defenders and weaving through his competition for long gains. Grant's biggest example of his ability to break away was his 40-yard touchdown run in the preseason finale against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md.
The then-rookie made the team as the fifth running back on the depth chart, but excelled early on as a kick returner. Grant averaged an impressive 27.5 yards per return, which would have been good for eighth-best in the league had it held throughout an entire season. Unfortunately for Grant, his rookie season ended early when he suffered a hip flexor injury in his sixth career game.
Grant was rarely used on offense as a rookie, which is why he continued to work on his game when he recovered from injury. Having learned the offense and special teams playbooks a year prior, Grant feels like he can be even more useful in second season.
“I’m actually feeling a little bit faster, because I don’t have think as much,” Grant said. “Once you take the thinking part out and just play, it’s a lot easier, especially on returns. I can see it happen before it happens. Even on offense now, I don’t have to think as much. I know where I’m supposed to be, when I’m supposed to be [there].”
While Grant's jets may have a bit more of a boost, he isn't content with just being a "speed guy." He wants to be more than just the guy the Jaguars trot out on specials teams. He believes he can play running back in the NFL and thinks he can make big plays without the ball in his possession.
“That’s another big thing, with the speed, coming [into the league] with the speed, you’re kind of stereotyped as a speed guy, kick returner and mainly a special teams guy,” Grant said. “That’s another thing I try to do on the offensive side of the ball, always try to make plays on that side of the ball, even if I don’t have the ball in my hands and show I can play without the ball.”
Despite his desires to avoid typecasting, Grant still plans to be very active on special teams. The team is using him as a kick returner and has him lining up as a gunner to defend against returns.
Grant knows that while special teams may not be his only area of work, it will be his most prominent role. Essentially, if a running back isn't Chris Ivory or T.J. Yeldon, he will have to play special teams and play well.
That's why Grant's mindset hasn't changed much from his first offseason as an undrafted rookie.
“It’s kind of like last year, ‘Go in, be the best you can be at every position but don’t take special teams for granted,’” Grant said. “At the end of the day, the third, the fourth - last year we kept a fifth back - and that fifth back needed to play special teams. From the looks of it, that may be my role, which I’m perfectly fine with. That’s what I’m trying to take advantage of.”
Grant hopes that his work on special teams will create more opportunities on offense. He plans to make the most of those opportunities if given the chance during the preseason and beyond.
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.