Tulane's Ryan Grant impressing Senior Bowl coaches, scouts

MOBILE, Ala. — Having completed a second day of drills for the Reese’s Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Tulane wide receiver Ryan Grant listened intently as Saints offensive assistant Carter Sheridan spoke to him and recited the names of unheralded prospects who’ve both carved out long careers with New Orleans’ NFL franchise and helped it capture Super Bowl XLIV.

Marques Colston, a seventh-round draft pick. Pierre Thomas and Lance Moore, undrafted free agents. “It doesn’t matter how you get there,” said Sheridan, adding that a coach like the Saints’ Sean Payton will always field the best prospects, no matter when or if they were chosen in the NFL draft. “To us, that’s just lane assignments.”

Grant, 23, is in Mobile trying to seize a better lane assignment than was afforded to Colston, Thomas or Moore. But, to put himself in that position, he’s displayed the kind of composure and conviction that at least seems to mirror that of the venerable Saints to whom Sheridan alluded.

The latest example was on Monday, the first day that scouts, coaches and executives from every NFL team gathered to watch the participants of the Senior Bowl practice. Grant’s Tulane equipment didn’t ship in time for practice — the school had sent it from Uptown New Orleans; but there was a problem with the order, and it didn’t arrive.

Then, the jersey Grant was given for the South team’s debut training session at Fairhope Municipal Stadium was an XL, far too big for the 6-foot, 197-pound wideout from Beaumont, Texas.

When coaches at Tulane were notified of the mix-up, they grabbed a set of shoulder pads and a Green Wave helmet and drove them two hours east on I-10. Meanwhile, an unfazed Grant practiced in a plain white helmet and a medium-sized jersey without a number on it.

He wore his Tulane gear for the second day of practice at Ladd-Peebles. By then, he had impressed observers with clean route-running and by catching footballs away from his body.

Grant credited that to playing his final two years in college under coach Curtis Johnson, who tutored the Saints’ wide receivers for six seasons until he was hired by Tulane in 2012 and brought Payton’s offense over with him.

“C.J.’s a really tough coach — if you don’t do something right, he’s going to get on you,” Grant said about being a part of the system Johnson installed for the Green Wave. “You have to know all the positions out there on the field, have to be flexible as a wide receiver.”

However, the most important instance of Grant’s resiliency occurred a couple of years ago. As a junior in 2011, Grant played solely in the season-opener and caught a single pass — a 27-yard touchdown — before needing to undergo year-ending surgery for a sports hernia.

“I prayed every night I’d come back from my surgery,” Grant said.

He got an answer to those prayers, and it was resounding.

Obtaining an extra year of eligibility because of his injury, Grant went on to deliver his two best seasons. He led the Green Wave with 76 catches for 1,149 yards and six touchdowns in 2012 and 77 grabs for 1,039 yards and nine scores in 2013.

In his senior campaign, he helped Tulane win seven games and reach its first bowl game since 2002. He became the first player under Johnson to land an invite to the Senior Bowl.

He’s spending most of his time there being coached by the Jacksonville Jaguars, though he and the rest of the South team are scheduled to work with the Atlanta Falcons’ staff on Thursday.

According to Tulane wide receivers coach Keith Williams, Grant’s resurgence from his lost year leaves no doubt about his “determination to have a positive career.”

“He’s a mentally tough and physically tough young man, so he fought through it,” Williams said. “And it worked out for him.”

Grant’s game isn’t without its flaws. Projected to be a fifth-round selection by the website NFL Draft Scout, he admits he must improve his blocking down the field, which coaches often say is more about desire and attitude than technique. He also noted that he needs to be better about catching throws at their highest point.

Sporting News’ NFL Draft Analyst Erik Galko wrote that “Grant had difficulty getting by the press coverage” at Tuesday’s practice. Yet Galko did laud the Tulane wideout for “snatching receptions away from his frame” and appearing “ready to contribute out of the slot for NFL teams.”

Grant and Williams fervently hope the last part of that assessment pans out so that other Tulane players under Johnson can revel in the opportunity to boost their draft stocks at future Senior Bowls.

Williams said, “Ryan’s been taught — and he’s well-versed in — NFL concepts. ... He’s a good first one to have (at the Senior Bowl), and we’re proud of him.”

“Me being here,” Grant said, “means a lot.”