Eddie Lacy has been playing running back since he was 5 years old.
Not once in the past 20 years has Lacy felt like this.
After two superb seasons to start his NFL career, Lacy’s third season has gone from bad to worse, with Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy announcing on Wednesday that Lacy had fallen behind James Starks on the depth chart.
“It’s difficult because you know what you’re capable of doing, you know what you can do, but it’s just not happening,” Lacy said.
A wrecking ball of a runner who put together back-to-back 1,100-yard rushing seasons in 2013 and 2014, Lacy enters Sunday’s game against Detroit with just 308 rushing yards. Last season, Lacy rushed for 1,139 yards and added 427 more through the air to give him a combined total of 1,563 yards and 13 touchdowns. This season, he’s on pace for a combined 800 yards and four touchdowns.
“He’s been the better player between us two so far,” Lacy admitted.
Rather than rumbling through defenders, he’s been brought down by the first man most of the time. After averaging 2.8 yards after contact last season, he’s averaging just 2.2 this year. With a miserable last four games, Lacy enters Sunday’s game averaging just 3.7 yards per carry – almost a full yard less than last season. He’s fumbled three times after coughing it up a combined four times in his first two seasons.
After running through defenders as a kid, after plowing through defenders during an accolade-filled prep career, after running to stardom at Alabama and then with Green Bay, what is Lacy thinking when he’s watching himself going nowhere fast this season?
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s different somehow. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know. It’s the NFL. People key into certain stuff, they stop certain things. You just have to adapt and figure out a different way to get past that.”
Lacy said injuries aren’t an issue – he sprained an ankle in the Week 2 game vs. Seattle and exited Sunday’s loss at Carolina with a sore groin. Echoing what he said recently, Lacy said his weight isn’t an issue, either.
But something’s wrong. Nobody, however, seems to have the answer for why a player considered one of the NFL’s premier running backs before the season has carried the ball 33 times for a meager total of 78 yards the past four games.
So, with his hand forced, McCarthy made the move.
“It’s different. It’s different,” Lacy said. “I don’t think anybody would like to be in this position but it happens to everybody. It happens all around the league. It’s no different than any other team or any other position. But like I say, you can’t get down on it. You understand what it is. We’re all grown (men) here.”
If Lacy’s decline in production seems odd, so, too, was the timing of McCarthy’s announcement. For most playing-time questions, McCarthy says they’ll be decided during a game-management meeting held on Friday afternoons. McCarthy, however, wasn’t even asked about Starks vs. Lacy on Wednesday. He simply volunteered the information while being asked about Starks.
Perhaps McCarthy is trying to light a fire under his third-year back. For his part, Lacy said the demotion could wind up being a blessing.
“It definitely could. If you’re not doing what you need to do and if somebody else is, then they move in front of you. It’s never anything personal. It’s always business. You just can’t let it affect you. You’ve got to go out there and be the player you are.”
Starks has no doubt that Lacy – aka “my little brother” -- will return to form.
“Eddie is fine,” Starks said with a smile.
In Starks, Lacy has a great mentor. Starks, who helped the Packers win the Super Bowl as a rookie in 2010, has patiently bided his time since Lacy arrived on the scene in 2013. During sporadic opportunities, he’s generally delivered. Now, the shoe is on the other foot. For now, this is Starks’ running game, with Lacy in a supporting role.
“Me and Starks, we’ve been supportive of each other since the first day I came in,” Lacy said. “Whenever I started, he supported me. We’ve bonded. It’s pretty much the same thing. He’s going to start. We’re still friends. He’s going to take over. Whenever I can spell him, I’ll spell him. Who knows how long it’s going to be like this. Maybe things pick back up for me and it’s right back and we’re never having this discussion again. You don’t know where this could lead to but, as of right now, for the team, this is pretty much the best move.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.