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What Do The Packers Have In Dimitri Nance?

September 27, 2010

It’s rare — although not unheard of — for an undrafted free agent to make a lasting impact in the National Football League. In fact, going back to the 2000 season, there have only been a handful of undrafted free agent running backs who have become starters for their respective teams: Dominic Rhodes, Willie Parker, Ryan Grant, Pierre Thomas, and Arian Foster.

The Packers are one of the teams to hit it big with an undrafted free agent. After spending two seasons on the New York Giants practice squad, the little-known Ryan Grant was traded to the Packers for a future sixth-round draft choice. Eight games into the 2007 season, opportunity knocked on Grant’s door. With injuries to running backs Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn, Grant took over in the second quarter of a week 8 game and finished with 104 rushing yards. After finishing the season with 956 yards, Grant has never looked back, logging back-to-back 1,200-yard rushing seasons in 2008 and 2009.

Fast forward to 2010. In a week 1 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Ryan Grant suffered an ankle injury that landed him on season-ending injured reserve. The Packers immediately named fourth-year player Brandon Jackson the starter, but went out and signed another little-known running back, Dimitri Nance, off of the Atlanta Falcons practice squad.

The Packers are not a running team by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hard not to notice how an elite running back can single-handedly win games. And in Green Bay, where games are often dictated by the cold weather, the Packers need a reliable back to grind out tough yards in December.

Is Dimitri Nance the running back the Packers are looking for? Head coach Mike McCarthy offered praise for Nance after acquiring him last week.

“Very explosive, instinctive, definitely has a very strong, quick lower half,” McCarthy said. “He is a young player and I think he will be a good fit for us.”

Nance is still learning the Packers playbook, but admitted it’s no easy task.

“It’s pretty difficult because it’s completely different from Atlanta,” Nance said.

The first-year player out of Arizona State is trying to shake off a subpar college career. After a stellar high school career in Texas (where high school football is king), Nance started off strong in college, but fizzled as time went on. During his senior season, Nance only rushed for 795 yards.

Despite his late arrival to Green Bay last Wednesday, Nance still managed to see a handful of snaps against the Bills the following Sunday. His workload should increase as he becomes more comfortable with the Packers’ offensive scheme, but without the repetitions of training camp and offseason workouts, it may be difficult to make an impact in a system that does not feature the running back.

Will Nance be the next undrafted free agent running back to make a splash in the NFL? Even with the odds stacked against him, Nance remains confident.

“I knew I’d have a chance to make it to the NFL someday and hopefully my true colors will come back out.”

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