GREEN BAY—Last season will be remembered as the year running back Eddie Lacy charged into the NFL and took the league by storm on his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl nod.
But it’s easy to forget it didn’t start out that way, and not just because Lacy fumbled in his first regular-season game and was sidelined by a concussion on the first carry of his second.
Looking back now, Lacy freely admits he didn’t play right away with the aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach that came to define his game down the stretch in 2013.
“In the beginning, I definitely second-guessed myself a lot,” Lacy said following the spring’s final minicamp practice. “I wanted to be as close to perfect as possible. I didn’t want to mess up. I didn’t want to fumble the ball like I did in the first game. I didn’t want to be the person that the guy I’m supposed to block is hitting the quarterback. I never wanted to be that guy, so I was overly cautious.
“As the season went along, things slowed down for me. It got a little bit simpler, and I was able to play to my natural ability at that point.”
Interestingly, Lacy was the one who emphasized those last three words. He’s at a different point now, and he knows it. He’s no longer a rookie, no longer cautious, no longer worried about being perfect.
If that translates into an even better Lacy in his second season, the Packers offense will only be better for it. His 1,178 regular-season rushing yards were the most by a Green Bay back since Ryan Grant’s 1,253 in 2009 and broke John Brockington’s franchise rookie rushing record that had stood for 42 years.
The stats aren’t what drive Lacy, though. He’s driven by being a guy “my team can depend on when necessary,” only now that he’s in his second season, it’s not a burden that slows him down mentally. He says he no longer has to ask anyone, whether it be the quarterback or his coach, if he’s doing the right thing on the field.
“I’m definitely more focused, but I’m also more relaxed,” he said. “I’m not tensed. I’m not trying to be too fast or too slow. If I make a mistake, I’m not killing myself over it.
“You don’t have to pretend like you’re the best person on the field. You just have to go out and take care of your job. We’re all human, you’re going to make a mistake, but it’s how you respond to that mistake.”
Lacy’s track record there is already pretty good. After that fumble in the season opener in San Francisco, he didn’t fumble again the rest of the season, a stretch of 300 carries and 36 pass receptions through the playoff game.
At one point late in the season, the Lambeau Field faithful could be heard chanting “Ed-die! Ed-die!” – a gesture the soft-spoken Louisiana native described as “definitely cool,” as well as energizing to both him and the team.
It all makes for a tough encore in year two, on top of the fact defensive coordinators now have a full season of film to study and prepare game plans for Lacy.
Opponents did that last year, though, after quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. Yet, Lacy still racked up 646 yards on 148 carries from the time Rodgers left after the first series against the Bears in Week 9 until the QB returned for the Week 17 rematch in Chicago.
Lacy’s 4.36-yards-per-carry average in Rodgers’ absence actually topped his 4.1 mark for the entire season, which speaks to the mindset he talked about developing as the year went on.
In 2014, he’ll have that, along with Rodgers on the field at the same time.
“I know it’s going to be a lot tougher than last season, but we have the greatest quarterback in the NFL, and with him back there, it’s not like they’re going to be able to stack the box and focus on me. They have to play him, because if not, he’s just going to kill them through the air.
“I still think I have a bit of breathing room, I guess you could say.”
Whether that breathing room means more yards, more awards and more records is to be determined. But don’t ask Lacy about that. It isn’t his concern. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed about him since last year.
“There’s no such thing as good enough,” Lacy said. “As long as my play is helping the team in a positive way, that’s all I really care about.”