With Eddie Lacy and James Starks, the Green Bay Packers should have one of the better one-two punches in the NFL.
In 2013 and 2014, Lacy had 3,001 total yards and 24 total touchdowns. In 2013, Starks led the NFL in yards per carry; in 2015, he set career-high figures in almost every category and led the NFL in yards after the catch per catch.
However, fumbles were a black mark on their resumes last season. Among running backs, Starks tied for fourth in the NFL with five fumbles while Lacy tied for eighth with four fumbles. Among tandems, only Tampa Bay’s Bobby Rainey and Doug Martin had more fumbles.
For Starks and Lacy, the fumbles were out of character. They also were out of character for the Mike McCarthy era. No Packers back had fumbled more than three times in a season since 2009. New running backs coach Ben Sirmans has been tasked with curing that unpardonable sin.
Starks had a total of five in his first five seasons. His fumbles are a byproduct of his running style, Sirmans said on Monday evening.
“Really, for him, like you see with a lot of backs, once they really start getting going and making all these strong cuts, what happens is sometimes their arms and hands go away from the body,” Sirmans explained. “I always talk about the guys as like a cheetah. When a cheetah’s running full speed and he has to make those tight turns to catch his prey, his tail is all over the place because it helps him maintain his balance.
“You get some running backs like that. When they’re going full speed, they’ve got to make those sharp cuts and their arms and hands start to go all over the place because it helps to keep them in balance. That’s something that James has to fight. A lot of times when you’ve got backs of that nature, they can recognize when the defense is coming down on them, so that’s when they’re more apt to cover the ball up. Every time that that happens when he’s running, I point it out to him. ‘Hey, look, the ball is all over the place.’ If a defender’s coming from behind, that’s when you’re susceptible to him knocking it out. So, just have awareness to it but, understand he’s probably been running that way throughout his career. He just has to be more conscious of it.”
Lacy’s four fumbles also matched his career total from his first two seasons. His problems, Sirmans agreed, should be simpler to cure. While Starks’ are from his running style, Lacy’s were due to flawed and presumably easily correctible fundamentals.
“With James, his was more the mechanical way that he runs the football,” Sirmans said. “Going back and trying to remember some of Eddie’s deals, some of it was just as simple as the nose of the football being down as he got hit. Sometimes as running backs, you can get caught with that. That’s why we always stress keeping the ball high and tight and nose of the ball at your chin. I think his was more a result of those things as opposed to just mechanically how he runs the ball.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.