Lacy 'set the bar pretty high for himself'
Each time Eddie Lacy stepped onto the football field last season, the butterflies followed.
They were almost undetectable as Lacy burst onto the scene, finishing eighth in the NFL with 1,178 rushing yards. He gave the Green Bay Packers' offense balance, something long awaited.
But before the young tailback won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Lacy was starting his rookie season. Inside, the transition to pro football wasn't always as easy as it seemed.
"I was nervous every time going out," Lacy said Sunday afternoon, entering Week 1 of his second season. "Every time felt like the first time all over again. I never really got settled or got comfortable, but as the season went along, I got better. So I figure it will carry on to this year."
The Packers figure Lacy will be even better, too.
While quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the most talented player inside Green Bay's locker room, Lacy is among the most important. For a decade, since Ahman Green's prime, the Packers searched for a thoroughbred running back. They had 1,000-yard rushers, but nobody who could consistently carry the offense through extended drives when needed.
Then came Lacy, a second-round pick from Alabama, who induced modest expectations entering last season. The 5-foot-11, 230-pound power runner quickly proved his worth. In Lacy's fourth game, he had 120 rushing yards against the Baltimore Ravens. A few weeks later, he hit 150 yards against the Chicago Bears.
His season ended in Honolulu, a rookie headed to the Pro Bowl. It's a distinction Lacy could earn again this season, but he said he hasn't set any individual goals.
"I just look to go out and do whatever I can to help the team," Lacy said. "Whatever comes, whatever stats come with it after the game, then that's what it is because I don't set numbers or anything like that."
Lacy doesn't write down his goals, but he expects to be better than last season.
Even after winning rookie of the year, there were parts of his game that needed improvement. Lacy emphasized becoming a better receiver, trying to add versatility, but he also wanted to be a better runner.
A year ago, Lacy felt his runs stall once he got to the defense's second level. He would "stutter" his feet, becoming an easy target for linebackers and safeties. So Lacy spent the offseason focusing on how to prolong his runs, hoping to be more explosive.
"This year, I'm going to work on just keep going straight so the defender has to make a decision," Lacy said. "He's going to come up and try to hit me or dive at my legs. So I should be able to go past."
There's a good reason he's become a popular first-round pick among fantasy football owners. Perhaps he can crack the NFL's top five in rushing. Maybe he can threaten 1,500 yards.
Ultimately, numbers won't define Lacy's season. Success will hinge on how his presence opens up the offense, especially for Rodgers in the passing game.
"Together, we definitely can be explosive," Lacy said.
When he was injured last season, Rodgers said, he noticed opposing defenses dropping a safety into the box to stack against the run. It's a strategy Rodgers hadn't seen in years, with previous opponents rightfully keying on the Packers' passing attack.
Rodgers doesn't know how defenses will react when he and Lacy are on the field together this season, but he expects they'll be more concerned with stopping the run than in the past..
"He was pretty damn good the first year," Rodgers said of Lacy earlier this preseason. "He's a great player, and he's going to have a great season for us. He's a football player. He knows how to play the game, he's smart. He's incredible with his blitz pickups and understanding the offense, and he's just a talented guy.
"We know what we got in him."
The Packers protected Lacy during the preseason, ensuring he'd be fresh when the games count. When he was on the field, Lacy impressed.
Running backs coach Sam Gash said Lacy is more "aware" than a season ago. There's a better grasp of the offense. He understands the blocking schemes.
Lacy's familiarity with the playbook, Gash said, has allowed him to be more aggressive, attacking defenses instead of reacting to them. For opponents, that's a scary thought.
"As a running back, the success that he had as a rookie doesn't happen often," Gash said. "So the simple fact that he had that, and he can build on that, he just set the bar pretty high for himself.
"So now he's got to set that bar even higher the next year, and every year of his career, just like the Curtis Martins and Thurmon Thomases, the guys that I played with. Every year was a new year, and you had to set goals to try to achieve."
Lacy won't surprise anybody this season. Neither will the Packers' rushing attack, for that matter. Opponents can see the film. They know what's coming.
More importantly, Lacy won't surprise himself.
The nerves are gone. Lacy said his mind is clear. He knows what to expect, what's awaiting 7:30 p.m. Thursday when Green Bay travels to Seattle for the NFL opener at CenturyLink Field.
Now, Lacy is ready to let loose.
"I think it will be fun to go out there and play all four quarters," Lacy said. "It's going to be fun to go out there and play against such a great defensive team with such a great offensive unit."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.