Raiders receiver Ryan Grant quietly builds his case for a roster spot
Descriptions of Raiders receiver Ryan Grant this preseason have seemed to follow a particular pattern.
From head coach Jon Gruden: “Can’t get two words out of him. But he made a lot of plays against the Rams” in practice.
And quarterback Derek Carr: “Very nice, very polite guy. But extremely good football player.”
And fellow receiver Tyrell Williams: “I feel like I’m quiet — he’s definitely quiet. He’s way more quiet than me. But the plays he’s made through the preseason games have been crazy.”
Grant is, indeed, soft-spoken. And after signing a one-year free-agent deal this spring, he had a quiet start to his first training camp with the Raiders.
Grant has come on lately. He had three catches for 32 yards in the preseason opener against the Rams and a 13-yard touchdown reception Thursday against the Cardinals. And in a crowded receiver group, Grant could be making a subtle case for a roster spot.
“I think he’s a really good receiver,” Gruden said after the opener. “I think he’s got to get some luck, he’s got to stay healthy. He’s got to be consistent to get an opportunity. But we’re happy to have him.”
At Arizona, Grant capped the Raiders’ opening drive by catching a quick pass from Carr, turning upfield and beating an Arizona defender to the pylon. Williams was the first teammate to greet Grant in the end zone.
“I was pretty hyped for him,” Williams said, “and he’s still pretty quiet, just kind of mellow.”
Said Grant: “I was excited. (But) I’m not going to start dancing or putting on a show. I’ve been there before. I’ve scored touchdowns.”
Grant, 28, is not an unknown commodity. He played his first four NFL seasons in Washington, setting career highs of 45 catches and 573 receiving yards in 2017. His head coach those four years was Jay Gruden, brother of Jon.
“I used to go up there,” Jon Gruden said, “and all we talked about a lot of times was Ryan Grant.”
In March 2018, Grant agreed to a reported four-year, $29 million deal with Baltimore. But the Ravens nullified the deal after Grant did not pass their physical. Grant signed a one-year deal with the Colts and recorded 35 catches for 334 yards. He missed two games to an ankle sprain and did not play in the postseason because of turf toe.
Last season, Grant said, “was a lesson for me.”
“I learned that things happen,” Grant said. “You can’t control everything. And you just have to recognize the signs from the higher power to really get your head on straight.”
This spring, Grant was part of the Raiders’ overhaul at receiver. With Antonio Brown and Williams slated for outside roles, the Raiders targeted Grant as a slot receiver, a role Grant said he “dabbled” in previously but hadn’t played full time.
Rookie Hunter Renfrow was arguably the Raiders’ most impressive slot receiver early in camp. Grant said it took him a few practices to “get my mojo back,” but said he thought he “turned the corner” the first day of joint practices with the Rams.
“When the Rams came out, I kind of amped it up. I turned it up, I raised my level of standards,” Grant said. “From that point forward, there’s no looking back.”
Is there room for Grant? With Brown, Williams, Renfrow and return specialist Dwayne Harris all likely to claim roster spots, Grant could be competing for one of two final spots with players such as J.J. Nelson, Keelan Doss and Marcell Ateman, all of whom have had strong camps.
“I don’t worry about what’s going on around me,” Grant said. “When I step on the field, I can’t worry about what such and such is doing. As long as Ryan Grant is doing his thing, I feel like I’ll be all right.”
Some Raiders players were previously familiar with Grant’s demeanor. Carr said he observed a competitive side of Grant when the two played on the same Senior Bowl team out of college.
“You watch that man play football and he’s talking trash” to defensive backs, Carr said. “But as soon as he gets back in the huddle, he doesn’t say a word.”
Williams said he worked out with Grant a few summers ago and figured Grant didn’t say much because “I didn’t really know him.”
“Getting to know him, he’s definitely still quiet,” Williams said. “But he goes out there and does his job. He makes plays. When the ball is in the air, he goes up and gets it.”
Grant, told of his teammates’ words, replied: “I’m just soft-spoken.” On the field, he said: “You just have to flip that switch on.”
“My parents raised me — don’t speak unless spoken to. Don’t be the loudest one in the room,” Grant said. “And let your actions speak for themselves.”
Matt Kawahara is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @matthewkawahara