Jonathan Grimes had just about grown used to the NFL’s waiting game. But the third-year running back has become one of the stars of Houston Texans training camp, often featuring with the first-team offense in place of the injured Arian Foster.
You could say it’s been well worth the wait, for everybody involved.
“Everybody tries to make the most of their opportunities,” he said. “Don’t try to say, Alright, I’m third-string or fourth-string and practice like that. No, practice like you’re going to be first-string and be ready when your time is.”
Grimes, an undrafted free agent out of William and Mary in 2012, spent his rookie season bouncing between the practice squads and 53-man rosters of the New York Jets and Houston Texans, where he started and finished, each time waived by the team. He opened 2013 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but was released at the end of the preseason.
Then came the wait. Fourteen long weeks of it.
“At first, it was a little (nerve-wracking), because I was thinking, Alright, I’m going to get picked up any minute,” Grimes said. “But then as you get later in the season, It’s kind of like, alright.”
Grimes said his father, who he said has been his mentor for his entire life, was his biggest supporter.
“He just kept looking at the TV — he’s all into the depth charts and everything. He was like, I don’t know, these guys might need a running back here and there,” Grimes said with a smile. “He’d keep me uplifted, just talking to him about anything, not just football — just life. It really helped.”
He eventually got the call from then-Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, and was signed to the active roster when Ben Tate became the second Houston running back to land on injured reserve. Grimes made his first NFL start in Week 17, carrying 16 times for 50 yards and a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans.
Then, Kubiak was fired. All bets were off.
Fast forward to 2014, and head coach Bill O’Brien’s first NFL offseason, and Grimes has seemed to find a home. He’s earned his reps fending off free agent pickup Andre Brown and sixth-round rookie Alfred Blue, excelling in every aspect of the position. He shows good vision and patience, seeming to know where to find holes and how long to wait for them to open. He’s proven to be valuable in the passing game, capable of running good routes, getting open and making tough catches — and being willing and able to handle blitz pickup, both physically and mentally.
With just five days until the Texans preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals, it’s worth noting how far Grimes has come — and how long he’s waited — for this chance exactly. The one he’s making the most of.
“I don’t really look at last year going into this year,” he said. “It’s two different years, different coaches, different team. Every day is different, and you just gotta take one day at a time.”
With many players struggling to learn O’Brien’s new offense, Grimes has seemed among the more comfortable in the system. Grimes credits his young NFL journey, and all of its ups and downs.
“I’ve got a chance to learn about three or four offenses now,” he said. “It’s a little different.”
Though his smarts and education have certainly helped, Grimes said.
“It’s a little confusing, but i feel like your mind has no limits,” he said.
“I went to William and Mary, and I’m proud to have gone to that school. We’ve got thinkers there, and I’d like to think i can pick up any offense.”
Grimes said he hasn’t spoken with the coaching staff about his role moving forward, and O’Brien on Tuesday said he hasn’t yet ruled out any injured players like Foster or decided how he’ll divvy up reps between players at each position.
In the meantime, Grimes is focused on controlling what he can, for however long he has the chance.
“I just want to be mental-mistake-free,” he said. “I just want to be on top of it. That’s the main thing I want to do on my assignments.”
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