Lacy, Franklin expected to be strong contributors
MAY 20, 2013 8:44a ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Setting up Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin as roommates during the Green Bay Packers' rookie minicamp was surely an intentional way for the team to get its two newest running backs to start thinking alike.
But with cordial greetings and getting-to-know-you's behind them now, the competition for snaps between Lacy and Franklin officially begins.
While there might be room for both of them to make their mark as rookies this season, the Packers are in need of someone to step up and turn around their struggling running game.
"Two different types of backs," coach Mike McCarthy said during rookie orientation. "They're young players. They're drafted players. We look for them to definitely help us and contribute."
The key for McCarthy and his staff over the next three months will be finding out if Lacy and Franklin are better off as complementary players to one another or if one of them can handle every-down responsibilities. McCarthy expressed his desire to find that type of every-down running back during the Scouting Combine in February, hoping that he can -- as the offense's play-caller -- not situationally have to shuffle players on and off the field.
Lacy, who Green Bay selected in the second round with the 61st overall pick, never really had that type of role while winning three national championships at Alabama. As a freshman, Lacy was a third-stringer behind Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Even after those two became first-round NFL draft picks, Lacy still split time at running back this past season with T.J. Yeldon.
"It helps a lot because I didn't get hit a lot," Lacy said. "I had those guys with me, and we rotated often. But at the same time, it gets people to thinking that maybe I'm not an every-down back because I never had to be. There are two ways to look at it, but I don't have a lot of mileage on me, so I feel like I'm going to have a pretty long career."
Lacy caught 22 passes in his final college season -- twice as many as his backfield mate Yeldon -- and has the big body type (at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds) that suggests he should be able to take a beating and keep on going. Though Lacy has had toe surgery and battled other injuries, he's always played through it.
Lacy isn't going to try to outrun many defenses to the outside. He's going to run straight ahead and dare players to stand in his way, with a spin move at times to shake defenders.
"Eddie Lacy, he definitely is very smooth," McCarthy said. "You can see the things particularly in the run game that he did at Alabama. He was obviously very well coached there and his comfort in the inside-, outside-zone footwork, I think that was my first impression watching him in the team run and in the running back ball-handling drills. I'm glad he's here."
It's Lacy's down-the-middle running style that the 22-year-old believes will provide the Packers' offense with the balance it hasn't had in years.
"Just the fact that the defense won't be able to stack the box up because we have a great quarterback and we have great weapons on the outside, it leaves a lot of room for the running back to be able to run through the middle," Lacy said.
Green Bay finished last season ranked 20th in team rushing yards and 22nd in yards per carry. Whether it was Cedric Benson, Alex Green, James Starks or DuJuan Harris in the backfield, many opposing defenses kept two safeties deep and didn't worry about the Packers beating them on the ground. Aaron Rodgers still had a great season by NFL quarterback standards, but it wasn't as good as his MVP performance from a year earlier. Rodgers' decline from being the best to simply being top five was mostly a result of not having the one-on-one looks downfield that he did previously.
If Lacy can be the answer to that problem, as he thinks he can, he should win the starting job with ease. He'll have competition, though, mostly from Franklin and Harris. But coming from a running back factory like Alabama, Lacy's upcoming training camp battle won't be anything for him.
"I had to compete pretty much everywhere I went," Lacy said. "It's not like something I'll have to get used to. It's something I've been through already. So I know what to expect and I know how to go through it. So I take those experiences and I just bring them and continue to do what I've been doing."
Franklin didn't have that type of competition at UCLA, leading the team in rushing during all four of his college seasons. Franklin, 25 pounds lighter and one inch shorter than Lacy, isn't going to run through the middle of the line with the same power, either.
But general manager Ted Thompson didn't look past Franklin in the draft just because the Packers had already added Lacy. In fact, Thompson traded up to grab Franklin and create further competition in Green Bay's backfield.
"I'm just looking at it as going out and just putting my best foot forward and being able to maximize my potential," Franklin said. "All I can do is just get better each and every day and put my best foot forward.
"On the field, we're competing definitely. But off the field, we're definitely buddies. But we're here to help each other grow and push each other to get better."
McCarthy described Franklin as "an excellent fit" but also mentioned punt and kick return as a possibility for him. Perhaps special teams is the Plan B for Franklin as a rookie if Lacy proves to be the more dominant running back. But that isn't going to stop Franklin from trying to be a featured running back in Green Bay the way he was at UCLA.
"Competition is going to bring out the best in you," Franklin said. "We're definitely going to find out what kind of men we are and what kind of athletes we are. So I'm excited to compete with Eddie and learn from Eddie and get better with him as well.
"Everybody wants to be the best. But at the end of the day, the best person on this team is the team. It's all about the team.
"We're here to make the Green Bay Packers better."