GREEN BAY, Wis. – If Aaron Rodgers – not Joe Callahan – started Friday night’s preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, there’s a good chance the Green Bay Packers' first five plays (and seven of the first eight) wouldn’t have been runs.
Then again, consider coach Mike McCarthy’s message to his team back when they returned for the offseason program.
“The first thing coach talked about when we got back in April was our identity: We’ve got to be a team that’s got to be able to run the ball effectively,” Packers right guard T.J. Lang said. “So obviously that was a good start.”
No wonder McCarthy demanded Eddie Lacy come back in better shape this season.
It was a small sample size – Lacy carried on the first four plays from scrimmage and rushed for 24 yards – but the early returns on his performance were positive before he gave way to James Starks and later John Crockett and rookie Brandon Burks.
“Yeah, he looks a lot different,” Crockett said of Lacy. “He looks like he’s a little faster, he’s quicker, he’s more agile. I feel like he really took everything seriously and he came back ready to go.”
Whether you believe Lacy lost 22 pounds as his trainer Tony Horton told ESPN.com last week, he did look like the Year 1 and Year 2 Lacy on his 11-yard run – his final touch of the game. He sped past cornerback Ibraheim Campbell, ran over linebacker Dominque Alexander and nearly spun away from safety Jordan Poyer.
“He does look quicker,” Lang said. “He’s making good reads. That’s kind of always been his M.O., making guys miss. I don’t want to make it too big of a deal, but I think he’s off to a good start.”
In all, it was a 151-yard rushing performance for the Packers, who played two undrafted rookie quarterbacks (Callahan in the first half and Marquise Williams in the second).
It's not as if the Packers' running game was deficient last season; they ranked 12th overall in the league in rushing yards per game (115.6). But McCarthy wants to start this season the way they finished last year. They averaged 131.0 yards rushing per game over the final six games, including playoffs. In the two playoff games, they rushed for 141 yards against the Redskins and 132 yards against the Cardinals.
"We wanted to run the ball,” McCarthy said. “Eddie and James is our 1-2 punch. That's been an excellent combination now going into our third year with those two guys. It's important to establish that and make sure those guys touch the football."