Packers running back has multiple factors working in his favor to bounce back in a big way in 2016
By Mark Prott
Enough has already been made about the weight loss during the offseason for Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy. The pictures were evident that the offseason work with fitness guru and P90x founder Tony Horton had paid dividends. But more importantly Lacy seems to finally be enjoying the fruits of his labor on the gridiron where it all matters. After the Green Bay Packers third preseason game and likely his last action before the regular season, Lacy’s stats stand at 20 carries for 114 yards, good for a 5.7 average per carry.
Any concerns about the power still being there have been put to rest. In fact, I’ll admit Lacy still at times looks more like a linebacker carrying the ball but it’s time to realize that is who he is, a big back with explosive power. Let’s embrace it. The eye test also says he now possesses an extra gear of speed compared to last year in his arsenal. This was evident on his 21 yard scamper against the 49ers, which ended for the first time in his NFL career with a tackle secured by his dreadlocks.
However, maybe the most important weapon gained by Lacy through his offseason workouts and new found healthy eating habits may be his conditioning. Lacy’s run in the 2016 playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals was as embarrassing as a 61 yard run can be. I’m not gonna suggest that he’s now a speed back because that’s never been his calling card. The bigger issue on that play was he seemed to simply run out of gas, which isn’t acceptable for a NFL running back. In a wise move, head coach Mike McCarthy put Lacy on notice at the beginning of the offseason for this reason and from all early returns he has responded. Even his new running backs coach Ben Sirmans has noticed the new found conditioning, as recently as the week 2 preseason game against the Oakland Raiders.
“He said he was pretty surprised that he didn’t feel like he had to come out. I think that bodes well for his fitness level and what we’re asking him to do,” said Sirmans in an interview with ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. So why does this bode well for the Packers in 2016? Well when the Packers offense is at their best the result is a no-huddle attack mode going full throttle. This means plenty of opportunities for Lacy to touch the ball in the run game and the pass game, where he might be even more dangerous when smaller players in the back end of defenses, such as cornerbacks are asked to bring the bruising back down. Without having to tap out to backup running back James Starks for a breather, Lacy will likely easily increase his touch total from 2015. I also think the move of J.C. Tretter to the starting center position could make the screen game even more effective, as his athleticism is second to none on the line. His ability to get down the field and block is a weapon that should allow for big plays in both the screen game and run game alike.
Another factor that might not be quite as popular to fans but no doubt has a real factor in performance is the contract status of Lacy. At 26, Lacy is entering the final year of his original deal and no doubt will be looking to cash in on what may be his only chance for a lucrative deal. It’s only natural for it to be on his mind. Running backs have notoriously shorter shelf lives than pretty much any other position and Lacy doesn’t exactly avoid contact.
One final and possibly more important factor than any is the way defenses will be playing the potentially potent Packers offense. With Jordy Nelson on the shelf in 2015, defenses simply didn’t respect the Packers pass game and aimed to stop the run by bringing extra defenders down and playing a lot of 8 men in the box. In the 2016 season, things are likely to change. With Jordy back in the fold and the addition of Jared Cook, who has been electrifying in the preseason and practice, defenses might be forced to pick their poison on what to attempt to stop. The guess here is the majority of defenses will concede to the best player on the Packers’ offense, Aaron Rodgers and try to contain him by playing coverage. Behind a motivated offensive line, containing four starters in the last year of their contracts respectively, you can bet there will be more running lanes created and a motivated running back aiming for new heights in 2016.