Lacy Leads What Will Be Powerful Backfield

With Pro Bowler Eddie Lacy, the Packers are set in the backfield for the first time since Ahman Green was selected for four consecutive Pro Bowls. Looking ahead to 2014, who will be Lacy's backup, and does Lacy need to run a little smarter?

The Green Bay Packers are in good hands with Eddie Lacy.

Not to mention good legs, good shoulders and good vision.

Lacy, coming off a record-setting rookie season, will play in Sunday's Pro Bowl. He's the Packers' first all-star running back since Ahman Green in 2001 through 2004. In the three decades before Green, Dorsey Levens made it in 1997, Brent Fullwood — of all people — in 1989, Terdell Middleton in 1978 and John Brockington from 1971 through 1973.

Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns, even while getting benched in Week 1, sustaining a concussion in his first carry in Week 2 and missing Week 3.

In the final 14 games, including the playoff loss to San Francisco, Lacy rushed for at least 81 yards eight times. He scored at least one touchdown in the final four regular-season games, even while battling a sprained ankle.

"It was not a surprise but it was nice to see him develop," said Alex Van Pelt, the Packers' new quarterbacks coach who had served as running backs coach the last two seasons. "He became the type of runner we thought he was. That showed up on tape on Sundays. His toughness, I didn't know much about. He showed me a lot of heart this year coming back from injuries that he did, playing through them and playing well through them. His knowledge of the game, that was impressive for him to pick up protections as quick as he did. It was a positive year for him and a great year for him to build on. It's a huge offseason for him to come back again next year and have a full offseason to go through again and get ready for next year, but it was good."

At 230 pounds, the second-round pick was a powerhouse who doled out a lot of punishment in his 284 carries. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Lacy's 647 rushing yards after contact ranked sixth in the league. Lacy forced 56 missed tackles, good for fourth in the league, per Pro Football Focus. All of the Packers' backs combined last year forced 33 missed tackles.

What Lacy must find is something of a middle ground so he avoids some of the big hits he absorbed. Not only would it help with Lacy's career longevity, but it might help him late in games. While conventional wisdom suggests Lacy wears out a defense, he averaged just 2.2 yards per carry after his 20th carry in a game. That was the worst averge in the league among backs who carried had at least 20 beyond-20 carries this season.

"Yeah, he does take a lot (of hits)," Van Pelt said. "He takes a lot of hits but he gives a lot of hits, too. Not that you want to see anybody go down on the field, but he put four or five defensive backs out of the game just trying to tackle him. Nothing that he did, just guys bouncing off of him. As you get to the second level, you like to take edges at guys as opposed to trying to take them head on, finding an edge. When you get an instinctive runner like Eddie, you don't want to mess with it too much."

The Packers will be deep in the backfield, regardless of the future of James Starks. Starks will enter unrestricted free agency with a big season on his resume. He carried 89 times for 493 yards and three touchdowns. Other than scrambling quarterbacks, Starks led the league with 5.5 yards per carry. During Starks' first three seasons, he scored two touchdowns and averaged 4.0. All of this year's touchdowns were on runs of 20-plus yards. Only LeSean McCoy (four) had more.

Even with his injury history, Starks figures to get a considerable amount of attention in free agency. Even a modest bidding war might be too pricey for the Packers, who have issues with the salary cap and a defensive line that has four players heading toward free agency.

Under contract are DuJuan Harris and Johnathan Franklin. Harris came out of nowhere in 2012. All of the other backs in 2012 combined to average 3.55 yards per carry. Harris averaged 4.62. He would have entered training camp as the No. 1 running back until needing season-ending knee surgery.

Franklin, a fourth-round pick, rushed for 100 yards in a half against Cincinnati, but his fourth-quarter fumble cost the team a victory. When he put it on the ground a couple weeks later, his season essentially was over. When Franklin sustained a neck injury returning a kickoff late in the year, his season officially was over. For Franklin, ball security and pass protection must improve if he's going to be a factor in 2014.

Both players should be good to go for the start of training camp, if not much earlier.

However the depth shakes out, the Packers have a star in Lacy, who is the favorite to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year when the official awards are handed out on the Saturday before the Super Bowl.

"I don't know. That's for other people to decide," Lacy said about the award. "For me personally, I came out to play for my teammates. I didn't come out to play for any awards. Just coming out and playing for those guys, putting me in a position to be able to achieve it. If I win, it's a team award, and I'll be very happy for that."


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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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