Rookie Lacy leads backfield charge for Packers
By Genaro C. Armas
GREEN BAY — Eddie Lacy lines up in the backfield, scans the defense and notices an awful lot of players ganging up near the line of scrimmage.
Lacy knows what’s coming. Defenses are trying to stop the run. Tough as it might be, he wants to make them pay.
Despite the absence of injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay has made a late charge in the NFC North race thanks in part to the 6-foot, 250-pound bowling ball of a running back.
“I know I’m going to get hit when you line up and see eight guys in front,” Lacy said Wednesday. “They can hit you at the line of scrimmage or you can get some positive yards so you can have some kind of momentum going ... the next time you run the ball.”
The rookie was drafted in the second round from Alabama to help complement Rodgers and the passing game. But it’s been six weeks since they’ve been in the same backfield, and Rodgers hasn’t been medically cleared to return from his left collarbone injury to play Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rodgers appears to be inching closer to a return. He hasn’t played since getting hurt on the first series of a 27-20 loss to Chicago on Nov. 4.
“Threw the ball extremely well. Looked sharp. He’s getting better,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
For now, he’s still officially “limited” in practice, taking some snaps with the first team while backup Matt Flynn prepares to start a game that Green Bay (7-6-1) needs desperately. A victory over the Steelers ensures an all-or-nothing showdown for the division the following week with the Bears.
Flynn has helped rally the Packers to two straight come-from-behind wins, capped by the frantic 37-36 win last week in Dallas to rally from a 23-point halftime deficit — the biggest comeback in franchise history. Flynn threw for 299 yards and four scores.
But Flynn knows the deal too. He’ll relinquish the job when Rodgers is ready. The Packerswould love to reunite Lacy and Rodgers in the same backfield, and perhaps get more breathing room for the running game.
Nursing a sprained right ankle, Lacy ran for 141 yards on 21 carries and the go-ahead touchdown from a yard out last week against Dallas. Imagine what Lacy might be able when Rodgers returns.
Lacy’s day earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. With 1,028 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, Lacy is the only rookie in franchise history to run for a least 1,000 yards and five scores.
Lacy sat out practice Wednesday as a precaution. He’s also walking around in a soft walking boot on the ankle, but McCarthy expects the rookie to play Sunday.
“You have to run the football; we’ve committed to it more this year,” McCarthy said. “Been pleased so far with the way it’s gone ... We can get better.”
For his part, Lacy is soaking up knowledge every week. For instance, he hasn’t fumbled since Week 1 in San Francisco, when he made a cut and stumbled forward but didn’t have a good hold on the ball.
“Now, my pads are always square and I have good body leverage and I’m able to push and cover the ball with my hands,” Lacy said.
He’s getting used to the timing with his blockers. Besides the addition of Lacy, the Packersalso re-jiggered its offensive line this year with Josh Sitton going to left guard from the right side to switch places with T.J. Lang. Rookie David Bakhtiari starts at left tackle.
Lacy’s running style might be emblematic of the team’s bullish approach to stay in the playoff chase. Lang noted a recent meeting when a coach singled out Lacy while players watched film.
“I mean he’s bouncing off four or five guys, and (coach) just said ‘Hey, we’ve all got to play like Eddie,’“ Lang said. “Just the tenacity and the motor that he has ... that’s something that all of us can learn from and add to our game.”
NOTE: WR Randall Cobb returned to practice on a limited basis for the first time after missing the past nine weeks with a leg injury. Cobb hasn’t been cleared to play in a game, but he said he thinks that he’s healed and just needs to get back into football shape.