This is the third of three installments of Rookie Watch, looking at three newcomers who will play a major role for the Green Bay Packers in their season opener on Sunday at San Francisco.
No pressure, Eddie Lacy, but the Packers' hopes for an improved running game – any kind of running game for that matter – rest on you.
The second-round draft pick from Alabama gives the Packers perhaps their most dynamic running back since Ahman Green left in free agency following the 2006 season.
But the Packers weren’t planning to ride Lacy right away. They had hoped to pair him with DuJuan Harris, who finished last season as the starter, in a one-two combination that would force teams to defend two different kinds of running backs -- the speed of the diminutive Harris and the power of Lacy.
That plan had to be dumped when Harris was lost to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.
Now, it’s on Lacy.
“If that’s what it comes to, I have to be ready for it,” Lacy said. “I would take advantage of it.”
The Packers head into Sunday’s season opener with the longest active streak of regular-season games (43) without a 100-yard rusher.
If Lacy can end that streak against a 49ers defense that ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game last season, that will speak volumes about his ability.
The best glimpse the Packers got of what the 5-foot-11, 230-pound Lacy can do came in the Aug. 17 preseason game at St. Louis. Lacy broke several tackles and used a spin move to average 5.0 yards per carry on eight rushing attempts. He also caught one pass for 11 yards.
“You saw his ability to No. 1, break tackles and run through arm tackles, which is a strength of his,” Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “But in that game you also saw the quickness of the spin move and his ability to make guys miss in space and inside the tackle box.”
Having both of those qualities is rare for a 230-pound back.
“I don’t think it’s the norm,” Van Pelt said. “You talk about guys with feet like that, you talk about [Jerome] Bettis. He was a big guy (5-11, 251) that could break tackles but also could jump in and out of cuts real quickly. Off the top of my head, that’s the closest guy I could compare that to.”
While the Packers have said they still would like to use a combination of running backs, their options are limited. Fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin, a fourth-round pick from UCLA, doesn’t appear ready. The only other halfback on the roster is James Starks, who has missed more games in his three NFL seasons than he has played in.
“It’s critical for Eddie, especially early in the season, to make sure we keep him fresh,” Van Pelt said. “James is a proven guy. He’ll come in and do a great job. You hate to go in and pound Eddie for 30 times just for the length of the season and the demand of the position physically. I think we still have a one-two punch.”