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Anything can happen for Bears with Jakeem Grant, and that’s worth watching

Grant is the most high-risk, high-reward player in the offense, and that’s compelling television. He also might assert himself in the Tarik Cohen role over the final four games.

Grant had 51 yards of offense with a touchdown and ran a punt back 97 yards for a touchdown against the Packers.
AP Photos

Getting traded to the Bears two months ago could have been the beginning of the end for Jakeem Grant.

It’s never a good sign when you’re nearing 29 and a team bails on you by shipping you off for a sixth-round pick. Grant played just 17

offensive snaps for the Dolphins over the first four games this season and got the ball just twice — losing it on a fumble both times.

Ostensibly, the Bears traded for him mainly because they were thin at running back and needed to be able to move rookie Khalil Herbert off kick returns.

But rather than signaling Grant’s demise, the trade might reinvigorate his career. The Bears told him from the start they wanted to use him at wide receiver and running back, and he has given them a surprise boost the last two games.

“They honestly trusted me right off the bat,” said Grant, who noted it took time for him to get the playbook down before he could be a regular offensive player. “That’s all I needed from anybody . . . to trust me and be able to go out there.

“In Miami, yeah, they totally gave up on me on offense. And as you can see, I’m getting put on offense and I’m doing great things here with the Bears. I love that, because that was always my message: I’m a receiver first and then a returner.”

Grant’s incredible speed — the NFL clocked him at 21 mph on his 97-yard punt return for a touchdown and 46-yard TD catch against the Packers — could give coach Matt Nagy an opportunity to revisit the Tarik Cohen section of his playbook over the final four games. Cohen was Nagy’s favorite weapon in 2018 but has been out since tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament in September 2020.

Grant was one of eight players in question for Monday night’s game against the Vikings because of what the Bears called a non-COVID illness, but he practiced Friday and appears likely to play.

He played sparingly on offense until getting 19 snaps against the Lions on Thanksgiving. Over his last three games, he has eight catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns and two rushes for five yards.

“He’s got this great confidence level and this great attacking mentality,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Friday. “He has proven that he can learn and be part of the offense and find ways to fit in and be out there as a third-down receiver as well as just a ‘gadget’ guy. Really, you have to give him the credit of being able to get worked into the normal offense.”

It’s an adventure every time Grant gets the ball, as he illustrated on his punt return against the Packers when he went against conventional wisdom by catching the ball at his own 3-yard line. He almost got dropped for a loss at the 4 before turning sharply and outracing everyone on the field.

“He’s definitely got some guts,” tight end Cole Kmet said.

But adventures often spin into misadventures, which is why the Dolphins unloaded Grant. He fumbled 12 times in 70 games with them. His lone fumble with the Bears was at the end of a 32-yard kick return in the fourth quarter against the Steelers that gave the Steelers the ball at the Bears’ 42.

Grant and the Bears would love to minimize the downside, but it’s part of what makes him compelling to watch — there’s a wide range of possibilities every play. It’s also entertaining to see a 5-7 speedster weaving through gigantic defenders.

Hold on, something about the Bears is entertaining? There hasn’t been much of that this year. Although the last four games feel like a dreary end to a miserable season, at least Grant offers something fresh and fun.