Eddie Lacy wants to get toehold in Packers’ backfield
By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – For three years, Eddie Lacy rammed into a crowded line of scrimmage. It was the norm. So not surprisingly, the 229-pound running back is licking his chops to join the Green Bay Packers’ backfield.
Lacy believes he’ll be the X-factor that finally makes Green Bay’s opponents respect the run.
“I think that I can be that guy,” Lacy said this week. “I feel that I can fit into the offense perfectly. They won’t have to change anything. I’ll be able to go in there and adapt to it. It’ll keep defenses guessing.”
And yet, nearly the entire league passed on Lacy twice. Two weeks ago, Lacy tripped all the way to the 61st overall pick. One reason was leaked afterward. Before his final year at Alabama, Lacy underwent surgery on the big toe of his right foot. For a bigger, mashing running back whose job is to inflict and absorb punishment, this was a red flag.
Only longevity – or a lack thereof – will ultimately prove who was right on draft day. But this week, both Lacy and his team doctor at Alabama insisted that the toe is not a problem. True, a small piece of bone in Lacy’s big toe on his right foot was “fused.” He did undergo turf toe surgery before his final season at Alabama. But it wasn’t “toe fusion surgery” in the classic sense, his doctor said.
Lacy had surgery on his toe to prevent potential problems. Alabama’s team doctor, E. Lyle Cain Jr., believes the window of legitimate concern – immediately after the surgery – has passed. And Lacy is not worried at all.
“I’m good until I basically can’t run on it anymore,” Lacy said. “It’s nothing that I’m thinking about. I’m pretty sure I won’t have any problems with it. It’s holding up good. The surgery was basically perfect, and now it’s about getting back to doing what I know how to do best.”
For Lacy, this all began early in his sophomore season. From September on, he battled a turf toe, a sprain of the ligaments around the big toe that can affect an athlete’s ability to push off the foot. Serving as Trent Richardson’s sidekick, Lacy didn’t miss a game. But he also didn’t want the turf toe pain to linger through his football career. So after that 2011 season, he had surgery.
One of Cain’s partners teamed with a doctor from the Steadman Hawkins Research Clinic in Vail, Colo., to perform the bone fusion. Unlike the typical toe fusion surgery – which hardens the big toe completely, thus limiting mobility – only the bone on the tip of Lacy’s big toe was fused. He never needed the full, rocking-chair-like fusion doctors often use.
“The joint underneath the toenail was fused to allow the ligament to work better basically,” Cain said. “It’s something you do to give you a better push-off. His big toe moves just like a normal big toe in terms of motion. . . . If you fused it completely, it’d give you a stiff big toe and you can’t push off and that’s a big problem. In Eddie’s case, he does not have that. His fusion does not affect his big-toe motion.
“The bottom line is, the fusion he had does not affect his big-toe motion.”
Lacy experienced initial soreness in 2012, but that quickly subsided. The surgery did not dull his running style in rushing for 1,322 yards on 204 carries (6.5 avg.) with 17 touchdowns.
Without mentioning names, Cain said he has had other players undergo this same surgery go on to have highly successful NFL careers. Last year, he followed up with Lacy often. And while Lacy did endure other nicks and bruises – “nothing of long-term consequence,” Cain said – the toe was never an issue. Not once did Lacy consult with Cain about the toe in the training room, after practice or on the sideline during games.
Most importantly to Lacy, he didn’t lose his push-off strength. He was able to cut and explode. That’s the purpose of the surgery, Cain said. They wanted to prevent turf toe from becoming an issue in the future. The fact that Lacy made it through the 2012 season – with no problems, visits or complaints – was enough to convince Cain.
“That answered the question really,” Cain said. “I think that takes it out of the equation. . . . I expect Eddie Lacy to have a long, productive NFL career. I don’t think the toe will be a problem in his career.”
Still, other NFL teams apparently disagree. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report said the Steelers “would not touch” Lacy because of the toe. Also, per the Denver Post, the Broncos director of player personnel, Matt Russell, told season-ticket holders that the turf toe was a concern of theirs in choosing Wisconsin’s Montee Ball over Lacy.
Lacy called a draft “a process,” adding “it’s not meant for me to know” why teams passed.
“They make their own decisions and conclusions and go from there,” he said. “But I played with it. I know how it feels and I don’t have a problem with it. I know I can play, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Lacy views his injury history in a positive light. Whatever he dealt with, he played through. One teammate said Lacy never missed practice last fall. A thick skin to gut through pain in general, the running back believes, should be viewed as a strength.
“It is because as a running back you’re going to get banged and bruised,” Lacy said. “You’re going to get injured and you’re going to have to play through it. I did that and I didn’t have a problem with it. So it is a strength. It shows the team how tough you are both mentally and physically.”
“I have a very high pain tolerance. I don’t know how to explain it. I can get banged up and not get injured. I’ll play through the whole game.”
Lacy has had zero setbacks with the foot since surgery. And the Packers, evidently, are banking on it staying that way. After the pick, general manager Ted Thompson said other teams may have been worried about Lacy’s health but that they “felt pretty good about it.” In the fourth round, Thompson did add UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin as insurance.
If healthy, Lacy could be the threat that finally lures another defender (or two) into the box.
Moments after being picked by Green Bay, Lacy assured the fall to No. 61 would be motivation. Again, he made that clear. After seeing one reason for his draft-day plunge, Toegate, Lacy is aiming to prove he’s durable.
“It’s a lot of motivation, just from falling so far back and not being the first running back picked, but I felt like I fell to the perfect place,” Lacy said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better place to go, a better team to play for. I’m just excited to go out and let everybody know that nothing’s wrong with me physically.”
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