RB Eddie Lacy has a chance to finally end Packers’ rushing woes in 2013
By Rob Reischel, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY — Ahman Green. Vernand Morency. Brandon Jackson. DeShawn Wynn. Ryan Grant. James Starks. Cedric Benson. Alex Green. DuJuan Harris.
These nine running backs have been the featured running back during some point of Mike McCarthy’s seven-year tenure. And for the most part, the results have left plenty to be desired.
Perhaps Eddie Lacy can change that.
Powerful. Shifty. Tough. Physical.
Lacy (5-11, 230) has a combination of skills that no Packer back has had since McCarthy arrived in 2006. Now, it’s up to Lacy — a second-round draft pick in April — to take advantage of a golden opportunity when training camp begins July 26.
“I can only bring what I was drafted to bring in, and that’s what I’ve been doing pretty much my whole life,” Lacy said during Green Bay’s June mini-camps. “I don’t plan on changing the way I run and I don’t think that they expect me to be able to change it. They just want me to be able to come in and do what I was drafted to do.”
Green Bay’s hope is that Lacy can give a boost to the running game.
It’s been 43 straight regular-season games since the Packers had a 100-yard rusher. That’s the eighth-longest streak in NFL history, 29 games off the record set by Washington between 1961-’67.
In McCarthy’s tenure, the Packers have ranked 23rd in 2006, then 21st, 17th, 14th, 24th, 27th and 20th in rushing yards per game. That’s an average finish of 21st.
In that same time, the Packers ranked 18th in 2006, then 21st, 17th, 14th, 24th, 27th and 20th in average yards per carry for an average finish of 20th.
With Aaron Rodgers around, the Packers will always be a pass-first offense. But McCarthy wants to be better on the ground than the Packers have been — and insists they will in 2013.
“We’ll be better, I promise you that,” McCarthy said in June. “Big letters.”
That’s quite a proclamation from a coach who’s never given more than lip service to the run game. But perhaps Lacy’s big, punishing frame and terrific feet will give McCarthy more incentive than ever before to balance the offense.
Lacy, the 61st overall pick in April’s draft, is the highest running back general manager Ted Thompson has ever selected during his nine drafts in Green Bay. And it’s easy to see why.
Lacy’s size makes him different than the other backs McCarthy has had to work with. But his nifty feet, cutback ability, balance and instincts are unique for a 230-pound man.
Lacy was projected by many as a first-round draft pick, but fell to Green Bay largely due to injury concerns while he was at Alabama. If Lacy can overcome those, he stands a chance to emerge from a crowded group of runners.
“I’m learning fairly well,” he said. “If I can get everything down pat to where I’m making the least amount of mistakes as possible, then I feel as though I will be able to get in if they needed me to get in and play.”
It would certainly behoove the Packers if Lacy played — and played well — from the outset of camp. That’s because the group of returnees certainly hasn’t wowed anybody.
Harris emerged as Green Bay’s best runner last season and averaged 4.6 yards per carry over the final month of the season.
But at 5-foot-8, 203 pounds, Harris might be too small to be the lead back.
Starks had one of the great feel-good stories in franchise history during the 2010 postseason. In the two years since, Starks has been given every chance to become the Packers’ featured back, but has run for 833 total yards and two touchdowns.
Starks has also missed 23 of 55 possible games in Green Bay due to injury. Now, Starks might be down to his final chance.
Alex Green finds himself in a similar spot to Starks. Green, a third-round pick in 2011, tore his ACL and played just four games as a rookie. Last year, Green lacked the burst and explosiveness he had at Hawaii and averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. He likely faces a make-or-break training camp as well.
“Training camp is going to be intense,” Green said in June. “There’s a lot more guys here, a ton of competition.”
One player that could get in the mix is fourth-round draft pick Johnathan Franklin (5-10, 205), who broke UCLA’s career rushing record (4,403) last year. Like Harris, Franklin might not have the size to handle 250-plus carries per season. But Franklin is a natural pass-catcher and could find a complementary role immediately.
“I like the young running backs,” Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers said during June mini-camps. “Eddie is a bigger back. He can bring some power in the run game. And seeing Johnathan, he’s a shifty guy, he’s got some moves in the open field (and) he’s a potentially three-down back. It gives us an interesting backfield look.”
The Packers entered training camp last summer with a running back group of Starks, Green, Brandon Saine, Marc Tyler and Du’ane Bennett.
Immediately, McCarthy & Co. realized that cluster wouldn’t cut it and added veteran journeyman Cedric Benson.
On paper, this group appears far more formidable. But if the Packers hope to elevate their running game, Lacy will certainly be the key.
“It’s a learning process and as a rookie you don’t know everything,” Lacy said. “When we get our shot, we’ll just slowly work our way into it.”
Slow certainly isn’t the desired speed for a running game that’s been stuck in neutral for McCarthy’s seven seasons. Lacy’s chance to change that is almost here.
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