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Imagine Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy building up a head of steam, about to hit a big hole full speed with nothing on his mind but doing what he does best, and all of a sudden the whistle blows and the referee says the game is over.
That's it. Time to call it a day.
It's sort of what Lacy, the Packers' all-time rookie rushing leader, went through this past week when coach Mike McCarthy decided not to play him against the Tennessee Titans.
Lacy had been building up to his first action of the 2014 season with a heavy-duty workload of practice reps during the first two weeks of training camp. He was headed to the reward part for taking all those snaps in the summer heat — a chance to play against someone other than his own teammates.
McCarthy put the brakes on because he thought Lacy had gotten plenty of quality work, and he didn't want to overdo it.
"Eddie's got a lot of work," McCarthy said Tuesday. "His reps are up this year from last year, so you've got to pay attention to that. Obviously we all understand how productive he was last year, but you also have to look at the workload he had last year playing the season.
"It's not my goal for his workload to be very high in preseason games."
So why was Lacy's practice load so heavy early in camp?
McCarthy didn't say, but he said during the off-season that his goal was to make Lacy a three-down back, which means staying on the field in passing situations and knowing all the pass protections required to keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers upright.
It would be an advantage for the Packers not to have to take Lacy out of the game. Opposing defenses wouldn't be able to load up on defensive backs to defend the passing game, knowing they must account for the bruising Lacy.
"I guess you could put it like that, but honestly I have no idea," Lacy said of why he didn't play against the Titans on Saturday. "Whenever I'm in, I'm in. I don't put what it's for, I just go in and do what I have to do."
Lacy didn't appear upset with not playing, just a little surprised. All indications are that he won't be treated like the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson and held out of every preseason game.
He expects to play against St. Louis this Saturday but isn't sure how much. His practice load this week has dropped dramatically as McCarthy and his staff take a look at backups DuJuan Harris, Michael Hill, Rajion Neal and LaDarius Perkins.
"That's definitely something else that you would have to ask the coaching staff, but as far as me as a player, whatever opportunities I'm given, whether it's preseason or held out until the first game — which I highly doubt that — whatever work I get will definitely help as far as getting timing and rhythm down," Lacy said.
The reps Lacy got with the No. 1 offensive line early in camp were valuable. McCarthy inserted JC Tretter into the lineup at center and stuck with him, giving the No. 1 unit a consistent look and a chance to mesh once again with Lacy.
The work the line did showed Saturday when the Packers ran it right down the Titans' throat with backup James Starks on their first drive. Starks carried the ball six times for 49 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown run.
Still, there are unique things about Lacy that a line might forget while not playing with him.
"The thing you have to get used to with Eddie is that he's never going to stop pushing, the play is never over because he's not going to go down," Tretter said. "If he runs by you, you don't just stop. You have to keep going to the next level because he still might be fighting for yards."
McCarthy shouldn't have to overwork Lacy this season if Starks plays the way he did Saturday and also stays healthy. Harris could offer a spark as well if he makes the team.
Last year, Lacy averaged 20 carries per game, although if you consider he missed all but one series of one game because of a concussion and played about a half of another, his average seemed a little higher. McCarthy could increase that load this year, which is something Lacy said he'll have to handle.
One thing he learned last year while rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns was that he can't afford to be dragging late in the season.
"Definitely," said Lacy, who in addition to the concussion dealt with an ankle injury the latter part of the season. "It's how well you take care of your body off the field. That's where rehab, hot tub, cold tub, and when you're not here at the facility making sure you're off your feet (is so important), not out running around whenever you have off time.
"So, it's all about maintaining your body because you're going to get beat up a lot during the game. You want to heal your body as much as you can before next week."
As for the rest of training camp and preseason, Lacy showed he was up for anything when he jumped into a drill with the offensive linemen that emphasized a two-hand punch, something he'll need while keeping pass rushers off Rodgers. How much work McCarthy gives him only the head coach knows, but it seems likely he'll give Lacy some live action starting this weekend.
Lacy would like that.
"Just timing," he said of what he seeks in a game situation. "We practice all the time, but practice speed and game speed are completely different. So whether it's two reps or five reps, just getting the timing down with the offensive linemen's blocks and the quarterback's path."
By | Tom Silverstein