Coach Mike McCarthy picked a teacher, not a drill instructor, to be the man in charge of getting running back Eddie Lacy’s career pointed back in the right direction.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m a yeller and screamer and, if I am, something has to happen. Guys know something dramatic had to happen for me to get to that level,” new running backs coach Ben Sirmans said on Thursday. “I look at myself more as a teacher. That was my profession by choice before I became a coach.”
In Lacy, Sirmans has another talented pupil. Sirmans spent the past four seasons as the Rams’ running backs coach. Last year, first-round pick Todd Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards in 13 games to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. In Sirmans’ first year with the Rams, he coached veteran Steven Jackson to the final 1,000-yard season of his career.
After back-to-back seasons of 1,100-plus rushing yards, Lacy drew comparisons to Jackson as a big back capable of winning with power or moves, rushing or receiving. However, Lacy rushed for just 758 yards last season. A few days after the playoff loss at Arizona, McCarthy said Lacy was overweight and needed to report to camp in better physical condition.
The reality, McCarthy said, is it will take a football village to get Lacy back on top of his game.
“Your strength, conditioning, training, nutrition (staffs), all those things” also will play their part, coach McCarthy said on Wednesday. “And everybody’s accountable to their area, and the position coach is ultimately accountable for the performance and the training of their players. But Eddie Lacy, conditioning and so forth, is something I have great confidence will improve or is improving as we speak, and he’ll learn from his performance last season.”
Sirmans said he has spoken to Lacy but those discussions haven’t gone past a personal level.
“He seems like a great person,” Sirmans said. “You can tell and get the sense that he’s very hungry this year to really get ready to get after it. I spent a lot of time talking about myself because he has to feel comfortable with me as his head coach and from that giving himself a chance to talk and tell me a little bit about his background. It was a pretty good conversation.”
Sirmans said he hasn’t started an in-depth film study of Lacy’s season, though he did recall having Lacy ranked No. 1 among running backs in the 2013 draft after an excellent career at Alabama.
“I know that he’s a very explosive player, got a ton of talent, strong, got great feet,” Sirmans said. “Just to have a chance to be able to coach a guy with those type of attributes I’m really excited about.”
Sirmans’ task will be getting Lacy back among the top running backs in the game. In 2014, Lacy averaged 4.6 yards per rush and caught 42 passes. In 2015, Lacy averaged 4.1 yards per rush and caught 20 passes. In the playoff game against the Cardinals, Lacy broke into the clear for a 61-yard run. At one point, he was 5 yards ahead of every Cardinals defender. By the time he was tackled, five defenders had caught up to him.
The hope is a slimmer Lacy will be more explosive and have more stamina.
“Obviously, he’d be a little bit quicker and, in this league, quickness and those things, they do matter,” Sirmans said. “I haven’t really had a chance to really focus and see the difference between Eddie when he was lighter and to where he’s at right now and to study those things. Those are some of the things that I want to do so that when he comes back and we sit down and start talking and develop a plan to help him to continue to get better, I have a great idea of what he needs to do from that standpoint.”
Lacy, whose four fumbles last season matched his career total, isn’t the only question in the backfield. Veteran James Starks, whose five fumbles matched his career total, is scheduled to be a free agent. The only other running back on the roster is John Crockett, an undrafted rookie last year who played sparingly after a late-season promotion from the practice squad. The team almost certainly will add another couple of backs through the draft or college free agency. So, there’s work to be done for the running backs’ new teacher.
“That’s what I studied -- teaching. I think that’s how I view myself,” he said. “I try to find ways to convey information to guys. The difference between the great teams and the teams that just miss the playoffs is very, very small. So technique, fundamentals those are the things that I teach and try to convey to the guys.”
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