Lacy, Franklin Keep Two Hands on the Ball

Ball-security is paramount for the Packers, and Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin should fit that mold. Both had fumbling problems early in their career but alleviated those issues due to focus and hard work.

For the Green Bay Packers, the term "running back" is a bit of a misnomer.

Running the ball is great, but it's third on the pecking order of importance. Protecting the quarterback and holding onto the ball are 1 and 1-A on the list. The actual carrying of the ball and gaining yards ranks a distant third.

To that end, the Packers' two rookie running back have shown plenty of promise, based on data provided by the schools and STATS' John Pollard.

As a junior at Alabama in 2012, second-round pick Eddie Lacy fumbled three times (lost two) in 226 touches. In 2011, he fumbled once (lost none) in 106 touches. Those were big improvements over 2010, when the freshman fumbled twice (lost both) — both inside the 5-yard line — in just 58 touches.

Lacy said the key to improvement was "being aware" and focusing when running against Alabama's defense.

"The defense at practice, they are going to try to take the ball whenever they can, even if it's after the play and you're going back to the huddle," Lacy told Scout.com's Alabama site in September. "They're going to try to take it, so just being aware and holding it."

Even Alabama's strength and conditioning coach got into the act, according to Lacy, serving as an extra defender who periodically would surprise the running backs by trying to strip the ball after the play. Safety Robert Lester routinely would sneak up from behind after a play and try to knock the ball loose, as well.

"It's not fair," Lacy said in response to a reporter saying that tactic didn't seem fair. "But our coaches don't care about fair. They just care about the ball."

Fourth-round pick Johnathan Franklin made enormous strides during his senior season at UCLA. Franklin was a fumbling machine during his first three seasons with the Bruins, with eight fumbles (three lost) in 126 touches in 2009, six fumbles (four lost) in 214 in touches in 2010 and seven fumbles (six lost) in 166 touches in 2011. That gave him 21 fumbles in 506 touches, a rate of 4.15 percent.

As a senior, however, Franklin coughed it up just once in 282 touches.

"I watched film: When did I fumble the most? What hand did I have the ball in?" Franklin told Packer Report recently.

Franklin discovered most of his fumbles came with the ball in his right hand while falling to the ground. During practices and games, he emphasized holding the ball high and tight and putting two hands on the ball when doing down.

His efforts, however, went far beyond the practice field and extended to everyday life.

"I started carrying a football around and had people on the team, primarily, try to rip it out, but sometimes random people on campus would try to punch it out. When I worked out with my trainer, I worked out with a two-pound or three-pound football and he was on me about having it high and tight. In our training room, we have a Rice bucket so I'd go in there and just put my hand in there and strengthen my grip. I carried a tennis ball around."

The Packers' backs have been exceptional at holding onto the ball. Last season, Alex Green (153 touches), Cedric Benson (85 touches), James Starks (75 touches) and Ryan Grant (32 touches) had one fumble apiece. DuJuan Harris didn't cough it up in 36 touches. That gave the backfield four fumbles in 381 touches, or 1.05 percent.

According to a study published by AdvancedNFLStats.com, fumbles occur on 1.67 percent of all run and pass plays. In 2012, Lacy fumbled 1.33 percent of the time and Franklin 0.35 percent.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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