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OTAs 2018: Grant confident, ready

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Corey Grant runs for yardage during an NFL football practice Friday, May 25, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Corey Grant runs for yardage during an NFL football practice Friday, May 25, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

JACKSONVILLE – This is his time, and the time is right.

That's how the Jaguars see 2018 for running back Corey Grant, and know this:

Grant – perhaps the team's fastest player and certainly one of its biggest big-play threats – sees it that way, too.

"This offseason is the most comfortable, and the best I've felt," Grant said Thursday following the fifth practice of Jaguars 2018 Organized Team Activities at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Fields.

That appears to be good news for the Jaguars.

That's because it appears the Jaguars have plans to get some serious production from Grant, who in three seasons since signing with the team as an undrafted free agent from Auburn University increasingly has shown himself worthy of such plans.

"He's a guy we want to see him go," Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "Corey stepped in and did a great job at the end [of last season]. He's a guy we have to get out there. It's a long way from that first game to see what we're going to get, but I'd love to put him out there.

"He's a major change-of-pace back. He's a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield and every time we've given him the ball out of the backfield, he's done really good things."

The Jaguars' offseason to date could foreshadow a larger role for Grant. After playing much of the '17 season with Leonard Fournette starting at running back, Chris Ivory as the backup, Grant as a change-of-pace back and T.J. Yeldon as a third-down back, the Jaguars released Ivory following the season.

They shortly thereafter signed Grant to a tender to prevent him from becoming a free agent, securing his contract for one more season.

"To have the opportunity to come back means a lot," he said. "At the same time, you've got to come in each day and work and get better."

When the Jaguars didn't sign a veteran or draft a rookie to replace Ivory, it became apparent the running-back rotation could be similar to late last season and the postseason when Fournette, Yeldon and Grant played the majority of the snaps.

Grant, who made an impact in the '17 regular season as a big-play player on special teams, also played an extensive role during the team's AFC Championship Game loss to New England – a three-reception, 59-yard performance that has led to speculation his role could increase next season.

"It gave me little boost," Grant said. "The times that my number was called, we were playing against pretty good competition. To do that well in that moment, in the playoffs and throughout the season on special teams, did give me a boost of confidence coming into OTAs and minicamp to keep going."

Grant said he liked Hackett's "change-of-pace" description.

"I've very excited about it," Grant said. "We've got Leonard, who's a great back. We've got T.J., who's a great back and a great blocker. But to have that role that I think I'm going to have – a change of pace – is exactly what I want. Any plays after that are always great. But to play that role with the speed I have I know is going to be a great opportunity."

Grant, who rushed for 164 yards on 32 carries in 2016, increased that total to 248 yards on 30 carries last season. He had a 58-yard run on a fake punt in Week 3 against Baltimore and a 56-yard touchdown run on a fake punt in Week 10 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Grant on Thursday said if his role indeed increases, it will happen "at the right time."

"I feel more comfortable in the offense," Grant said. "I've been getting more reps throughout last year, and [running backs] coach [Tyrone] Wheatley has done a tremendous job with me. He has a different way of helping us grow; it's more my way. That really has helped me along the way.

"I'm ready to work. There's no deer in the headlights. I'm ready to work and do what I have to do. I know the offense and I'm trying to get ready each day."

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