History Suggests Lacy Should Tweak Bruising Running Style
Bulldozing defenders with more than just his shoulder, running like a freight train and the occasional leap into the air to score a touchdown -- these are all sights that fans of the Green Bay Packers witnessed in 2013 thanks to beloved rookie running back Eddie Lacy.
Entering the 2014 season, there is much to be excited about when discussing the 5-11, 230-pound grinder from the University of Alabama. Another season means another shot at 1,000 yards and 10-plus touchdowns. Another season also means a much healthier Lacy, as he played the final four games of his rookie campaign on a sprained ankle. Finally, another season means that Lacy isn't a rookie any longer.
In other words, let Lacy loose and watch him bully his way to pay dirt.
With that said, however, how long will his punishing running style -- the bulldozing and jumping over piles to score points -- last for No. 27? Lacy is not just punishing defenders -- he is also punishing his own body.
There is no doubt that Lacy revived a running game in Green Bay that has not seen a 1,000-yard rusher since Ryan Grant in 2009. Moreover, Lacy helped a team that had not finished inside the Top 10 in rushing yards per game since 2003, when the Packers had their all-time leading rusher in franchise history, Ahman Green, who compiled the third-best rushing attack in the league that season.
To show how impressive Lacy’s rookie season was, from 2005 -- the Packers’ first year without Green -- to 2012, the Packers averaged the 22nd-best rushing attack in the NFL. In 2013, Lacy churned 1,178 yards on 284 carries, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and amassing 11 scores on his way to earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Green Bay, meanwhile, became the seventh-best rushing team in the league.
The last Packers rookie to earn OROY honors was RB John Brockington in 1971 with his 1,105 yards on 216 carries and four touchdowns. Despite his rookie accomplishments, however, Brockington maintained that level of excellence on the field for just two more seasons before injuries took a toll on his game. Like Lacy, Brockington ran hard at defenders and had a complete disregard for the repercussions of his bruising play, which in total lasted just seven seasons.
Could the same happen to Lacy? Yes and no.
Lacy already plans to not change his game come 2014 and for good reason. He is still young -- he turned 24 last month -- and setting that intimidating precedent is important, as well as the fact that Lacy is on a pass-happy team with QB Aaron Rodgers, barring a repeat performance of 2013 under center.
With those three factors in mind, Lacy has energy to burn and time to burn it. With a young body, he can take the hits -- or rather, he can continue to relish dishing out all sorts of pain to defenders. His ankle is healthy, so his speed will be back as well, and despite running for a team that has enjoyed passing for the last decade, Lacy will not have to worry about carrying the rock more than 30 times per game. The most attempts Lacy had last year was 29 in a win over the Minnesota Vikings and hit only 20 carries or more just nine times last season.
In addition, the Packers retained fifth-year pro James Starks at a hefty price, so don’t expect to see Lacy run 284 times again, especially now that DuJuan Harris is back and healthy, too. However, it takes only one injury to shorten a career. Just look at Grant and Green, who suffered injuries that shortened their careers just when it looked like they might have some gas left in the tank. Despite the rule changes that are more offensive player-friendly, the game of football is still a rough one, and eventually, Lacy would be wise to stop running with reckless abandon.
Including the postseason, Lacy eclipsed the 300-carry mark, which is a large toll for any back, and the shelf life for rushers in the NFL is already fairly short as it is. Brockington didn’t last long in the 1970s with his running style, even though the NFL was a different game back then.
A player looking to unleash pain to those tackling him might want to take out a good insurance policy in the meantime, and Lacy should be near the front of the line. Until then, sit back and enjoy the inevitable highlight reel of Lacy punishing whoever stands in his path.