THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Injuries in the secondary have forced players like defensive back Grant Haley into expanded roles.
Haley is certainly making the most of is.
The Penn State product has been a reliable playmaker in the secondary, helping Los Angeles' secondary mitigate the absences of other players due to injury.
"I think just truly never taken it for granted," Haley said during a video conference with reporters Monday. "You never know when your next last snaps gonna be. You never know if you don't play defense special teams. Coming in as an undrafted free agent and then playing a little bit and then not playing truly It was what kind of opened up to my eyes was just like how grateful I am and how that was a blessing it is to be out there on Sundays."
Haley's NFL career began by signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2018. While he initially began his rookie season on the practice squad, he was later signed to the active roster on Oct. 16. His 33 total tackles and two pass breakups in 10 games (9 starts), plus his overall performance, made him the fourth highest-graded rookie cornerback by Pro Football Focus that season.
He started in three of the 15 games played the following year, then was released in early September 2020. Haley spent the majority of that 2020 season on the practice squad, but did manage to record his first career interception in the lone game he appeared in.
Unfortunately, late August and early September 2021 unfolded similar to the last two years. He was waived by the Saints during final roster reductions, and it wasn't until October 20 that he joined a new NFL team when the Rams signed him to their practice squad. While he only appeared in five games during the regular season, he got promoted to their active roster ahead of what became their Super Bowl LVI-winning playoff run.
During the 2021 season, Haley also experienced the loss of his father, Dr. Leon Haley Jr., in a tragic accident the day before training camp.
"I was reporting to camp, because I was still in New Orleans, and I got a call that my father was in an accident and passed away West Palm Beach (Florida), in a jet ski accident," Haley told Voice of the Rams J.B. Long on the Rams Revealed podcast. "For me, at that time, it was obviously unbelievable grief, but it was just, 'What would my father want me to do?' I know he raised me to be a man of character, a man to keep going when he isn't around to take care of my brothers and sisters, my grandparents, my mom, whoever is still in the picture.
"It's been not easy, I will say. There have been times, especially last year, how last year went, through that, getting cut, not being at home, and then being on the practice squad and then going to the Super Bowl, I mean, the journey was unbelievable. And it was so special for me to have my dad's parents, all my grandparents at the Super Bowl because that's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For that, it was a family experience because we had been so much through this year. And it was special to have a moment that I could share with my family of pure happiness instead of the last moment being with everybody together was just heartbreak."
This season, Haley was called into action early. Yes, he was on the practice squad again, but he would be on the active roster by Week 3 with injuries in the Rams' defensive back room mounting. His physicality and overall play has made a difference at star on Los Angeles defense.
"I think Grant Haley has shown up in a lot of ways that I'm not surprised about, in a good, positive way," Rams head coach Sean McVay said Monday.
Rams safety Nick Scott has a unique vantage point of that journey, as both a college and NFL teammate of Haley's. Scott told theRams.com that Haley has brought a knowledge and understanding to the defense, "a really smart guy who asks a lot of great questions, and always goes on to the field with 100 percent clarity of what his responsibility is for that game."
"And his toughness. He's a guy that's what he's only probably like 5-4, 150 pounds, but he can tackle, he can get guys on the ground," Scott said with a smile. "And so it's, it's fun. It's cool to see just him play a lot bigger than he actually is. And obviously, you need that at that nickel position. So he's doing a great job so far."
Seeing Haley contribute the way he is now makes Scott feel "really proud" of him.
"Just because not a lot of people go through what he's went through, especially last year, and, you know, come out on the other side, with great perspective," Scott said. "So soon, you know, it takes a lot of people, everybody has their own different healing process and everything like that. But he's kept the first thing first, you know, which is his family, God and everything like that. And you can see the way he carries himself. And so I'm not surprised that he's having this success on the field. That's kind of what he's been for a long time. But just as a friend and a teammate, seeing him grow and everything like that. I just been extremely proud of him, not like a condescending way or Big Brother type of way. Just to see him have that success, I couldn't be more happy."