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Packers bring back Grant to shore up running game

Packers bring back Grant to shore up running game

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Ryan Grant didn't want his return to the Green Bay Packers to be a distraction, so he figured he'd say a few quick hellos and get right to work.

His teammates were having none of that plan.

They gave the veteran running back a standing ovation when he arrived Wednesday, thrilled he'd found his way back to Green Bay.

``It's great to see him back, back in the green and gold. I've missed him,'' Aaron Rodgers said. ``He's done a lot of great things for this organization, he's a great teammate. We're excited to have him back.''

Grant is fifth on Green Bay's all-time rushing list, running for 4,016 yards and 25 touchdowns from 2007-11. But he missed most of the 2010 season after hurting his ankle in the season opener, and split time with James Starks last year. The Packers opted not to re-sign Grant last summer, betting that Starks, Cedric Benson and Alex Green would be enough to carry the load.

But Benson hasn't played since spraining his foot Oct. 7, and the Packers announced last week that he will stay on injured reserve the rest of the season. Starks will miss ``multiple weeks'' with a knee injury, coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. Green is getting better, playing one of his better games of the year Sunday against the Vikings, but he can't be Green Bay's only option.

Grant provides the perfect solution. Not only does he give the Packers badly needed depth, there's no adjustment period. He was with Washington from Sept. 26 to Oct. 23, and has kept himself in shape since the Redskins released him.

Better yet, he knows Green Bay's offense - ``Wrinkles here and there'' are the only changes Grant noticed - and McCarthy fully expects Grant will be able to play in Sunday night's game against Detroit.

``Ryan has great history with us, can kind of step right in,'' McCarthy said. ``I don't see him having any issues getting ready.''

Even his lack of a locker was quickly solved.

All of the lockers in the Packers' main room have been taken, so Grant commandeered four in the auxiliary room.

``That's kind of cool,'' he said. ``I've probably got the most lockers in here. ... I can spread all my stuff around.''

Grant's return could help stabilize Green Bay's running game, which has struggled with consistency all year. The Packers are 11th in the NFC with 105 yards rushing a game, and have scored just three touchdowns on the ground.

Yes, Green Bay's strength is always going to be its passing game so long as Rodgers is around, but the Packers have to have balance. They could use some help with pass protection, too. Rodgers has been sacked a league-worst 39 times, three more knockdowns than he took all of last season.

``I feel good football wise,'' Grant said. ``I stayed mentally and physically involved and attached to the game. I'm looking forward to it.''

After he was released by Washington, Grant went back home to New York. Though he took advantage of his newfound free time to do things with his family and catch up on his reading - ``Outliers,'' Malcolm Gladwell's book about the factors that contribute to success, was his favorite - he never got out of the football frame of mind. He kept to a workout schedule, and would watch games on weekends.

And unlike millions of Americans who like nothing better than to park themselves on the couch for an entire Sunday, that was one of Grant's least-favorite parts of the layoff.

``It's a different angle,'' he said. ``I don't really like watching football. It's hard for me as a spectator. I love football and I love what goes on, but to just sit and watch games is hard for me because I watch it as Xs and Os. So it's like studying film.''

The prep work paid off, though.

Grant had always hoped to return to Green Bay, where he was a favorite both on the field and off. But he said there are no hard feelings about Green Bay's decision last spring, and he didn't think twice about rejoining the Packers when they called Tuesday night.

``That's the business aspect of it,'' he said. ``I came into this league understanding the business aspect and I think that - I don't want to say it made things a little easier, but at the same time it made me understand some things. I don't take things personal in this business.

``I didn't come here for a feel-good story,'' he added. ``I came back here to help this team and contribute.''

Notes: DB Charles Woodson practiced Thursday, and McCarthy said the perennial Pro Bowler's return from a broken collarbone is ``getting close.'' ... WR Jordy Nelson and LB Clay Matthews, who both have hamstring injuries, are getting better but McCarthy said he isn't sure if either will be ready this week. ... WR Donald Driver said the thumb injury that has limited him in practice the last couple of weeks and kept him out of Sunday's game is actually a broken thumb. ``I can't do anything about it,'' Driver said. ``It's not the worst that I've had. I can fight through anything and I'll continue to fight through this one.''

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Predicting the 2018-19 NBA awards and the NBA Finals: LeBron James will win MVP

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USA Today Sports

Predicting the 2018-19 NBA awards and the NBA Finals: LeBron James will win MVP

With the 2018-19 NBA season kicking off this week, it seems like a good time to put my predictions out into the universe. 

I am fortunate to be a voter for both the All-Star teams and the NBA Awards, but I can assure you of this: much of this is impossible to forecast. I decided to only include the first team selections for All-NBA, All-Defense and All-Rookie because the less I predict, the less I get wrong.

With that said, here is how I expect the major awards, plus the NBA Finals, to shake out... 

MVP: LeBron James, Lakers

Going to L.A. to play with such a bizarre supporting cast was all by design so he could win his fifth MVP award, right? Okay, maybe not. But if LeBron carries that team to even a fifth seed the trophy should be his.

Defensive player of the year: Anthony Davis, Pelicans

This always goes to a big man and Davis finished second last year. He's probably going to have a monster season overall.

All-NBA first team: G Stephen Curry, G James Harden, F LeBron James, F Giannis Antetokounmpo, C Anthony Davis

All of these guys are going to make the All-NBA team, it's just a matter of which tier. The toughest one to leave off was Joel Embiid, but you can only pick five.

Rookie of the year: Deandre Ayton, Suns

Luka Doncic has become a popular pick here, but Ayton averaged 18.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in the preseason. If that is any precursor whatsoever, he's going to be tough to beat.

Sixth man award: Austin Rivers, Wizards

Rivers is a starting-caliber guard now back to playing off the bench. He should help John Wall and Bradley Beal a ton this year and we know he will get buckets. If he can maintain anything close to his scoring average from last season (15.1), he will be on the short-list for sure.

Most improved: Brandon Ingram, Lakers

Though L.A. has a lot of questions, Ingram seems most likely to benefit from James' ability to make those around him better. He should thrive in a secondary scoring role.

Coach of the year: Billy Donovan, Thunder

The Thunder won 48 games last season, but could improve a lot in Year 2 with Paul George. They have loads of talent and Dennis Schroder will fit nicely on their bench.

Executive of the year: Sam Presti, Thunder

You may be sensing a theme here. I see the Thunder becoming the clear-cut No. 3 team in the West and Presti will get plenty of praise for retaining George and getting something legitimate back for Carmelo Anthony.

All-rookie team: Luka Doncic (Mavs), Miles Bridges (Hornets), Marvin Bagley III (Kings), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies), Deandre Ayton (Suns)

This is shaping up to be a really good class. Guys like Mo Bamba (great song), Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Wendell Carter Jr. will likely be in the mix as well. 

All-defensive team: G Chris Paul, G Klay Thompson, F Draymond Green, F Anthony Davis, C Joel Embiid

Thompson should finally get his due this year. He is clearly one of the best defenders at his position, but hasn't received the proper recognition for it.

NBA Finals: Warriors over Celtics, 4-2

Picking the champion of the 2018-19 season is too easy and no one should feel good about that. Sports are better when they aren't predictable. But who will finish second is where it gets interesting. I see the Celtics being that team and winning two games in the Finals, though it won't be a close series.

 

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Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs. Titans

Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs. Titans

The Baltimore Ravens' Week 6 dominate performance over the Tennessee Titans is gaining national attention. 

A historic game that displayed the offense and defense firing on all cylinders, it's hard to pinpoint who had the biggest impact. 

So in his latest edition of Football Morning in America, NBC Sports' Peter King awarded not one, but two Ravens with weekly honors.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Za'Darius Smith

Against the Titans, Smith led the Ravens defense with three sacks and five tackles in their historic 11-sack game. On of three Defensive Players of the Week, King explained why Smith's performance stood out.

In the most dominant defensive performance of this ultra-offensive season, the Ravens shut out Tennessee 21-0 and had 11 sacks. Another one of GM Ozzie Newsome’s draft gifts that keeps on giving, Smith (2015, round four, Kentucky) contributed three sacks of Marcus Mariota and five tackles in a virtuoso game. Net passing yards for Mariota: 51.

Smith, who's entering the final year of his rookie NFL contract, has shown over six games he deserves to get paid in the offseason. So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble. 

COACH OF THE WEEK: Don "Wink" Martindale

In his first season as defensive coordinator, Don "Wink" Martindale has seamlessly made the transition from linebackers coach to leading the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense (12.8). But what impressed King the most from the 21-0 shutout was how Martindale's squad got to Mariota from every direction. 

When a unit records more sacks (11) than completions allowed (10), the leader gets an award. Those are the rules. Martindale’s pass rushers got to Marcus Mariota every possible way—up the middle, around the edges, in the pocket, on bootlegs, you name it. The total set a new franchise record and was one short of the single-game NFL mark of 12. And it came with a familiar face watching: Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to hold the same position in Baltimore. Shout out to the Ravens social media team for renaming the account RavenSSSSSSSSSSS, one ‘S’ for each sack.

This Ravens defense, who has always been known for its dominance, is ranked first in points allowed (12.8), first in yards allowed (270.8), second in passing yards allowed (188.0) and third in rushing yards allowed (82.8) heading into Week 7. In addition, they have yet to surrender a second half touchdown all season. Trusting of the talent this roster holds, the respect "Wink" has for his players is equally reciprocated. 

"It was really emotional when they told us we had 11 sacks," linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said postgame. "We just went out there and we were like, ‘We have to get Coach Wink . We have to put the Gatorade on him.’ So, we tried to turn him around so he couldn’t see it coming, and we had to get him real good."

Martindale will now face the No. 1 scoring offense in the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. 

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