John Crockett was as surprised as anyone to hear the news last Thursday.
The Green Bay Packers rookie running back had traveled a few times with the team this season, but rarely are practice-squad players activated on game day. Crockett, an undrafted rookie out of North Dakota State, only made the trip to Detroit because he earned scout-team player of the week.
He wasn’t there to play. His job was to watch, listen and be on stand-by in case of emergency. Then, three hours before game time, Crockett was informed he was being promoted to the active roster after the Packers released third-string running back Alonzo Harris.
Crockett quickly signed a two-year contract with the team and a lifelong dream was realized.
“Right now? Seriously?” said Crockett of his reaction when he found out about his promotion. “’All right. I guess we’ve got to get it.’ It was definitely one of those moments that I dreamed about. When it came, it came so fast that I couldn’t overthink it. That was the best thing. It just happened.”
Crockett provided an immediate spark to the offense. Trailing 17-0 at halftime, one of the adjustments the team made going into the second half was inserting the 6-foot, 217-pound running back into the backfield. Crockett carried the ball five times for 22 yards on seven offensive snaps.
The rookie admits the situation was a little "scary" when he first stepped on the field for the second half. So often he was the fifth-string running back during the preseason. Thursday was the first time he'd been in the huddle with Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb and Josh Sitton, who gave him a few calming words.
Snaps don’t always trickle down to the No. 3 running back for the Packers, but an opportunity was presented when the coaches cut back Eddie Lacy’s playing time after he and Harris missed curfew Wednesday night, the precursor to Crockett’s unexpected promotion.
Veteran James Starks started in place of Lacy, who didn’t enter the game until the third series. All six of his touches came in the first half, registering one total yard on 19 plays. Packers coach Mike McCarthy shied away from commenting on Lacy’s situation Tuesday, but said everyone is moving forward.
“I think Eddie’s been rejuvenated. His work was good today,” McCarthy said. “I look for him to have a very good week of practice and look for him to be productive Sunday. We’re looking for what’s in front of us. We talk about what’s behind us way too much. We’re really focused on today and beating the Cowboys.”
Despite lingering questions about his conditioning, Lacy appeared to turn a corner with back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances against Minnesota and Chicago. After amassing 3,001 total yards in his first two NFL seasons, Lacy is on pace for a little more than 700 rushing yards this season and already has fumbled a career-high four times on 127 attempts.
When asked about the demotion after the game, Lacy said he didn’t know what his role would be going forward. McCarthy was asked the same question Tuesday and suggested the 25-year-old running back will get his opportunity to regain playing time in the coming weeks.
However, he also left the same door of opportunity open to both Starks and Crockett.
“Everything Eddie wants to accomplish is right there in front of him,” McCarthy said. “That’s what we’re focusing on today. Everything’s in front of him. If Eddie or any other player wants to jump up and grab that opportunity, it’s right in front of him.”
As Lacy works to regain his reps, there should be ample opportunity for Crockett to show his performance last Thursday wasn’t a one-hit wonder. The Packers certainly have an idea of what he can do. He arrived this offseason as one of the team’s most coveted undrafted free agents.
Crockett’s early momentum was stopped when he sprained his left ankle during minicamp. The ordeal lasted more than a month and forced him to start training camp on the physically unable to perform list. He played in all four preseason games, but was behind Harris and Rajion Neal from the start.
After the Packers went with Harris as their No. 3 running back during final cuts, they offered Crockett a chance to return on their 10-man practice squad. The decision was a “cut and dried” for Crockett. He was coming back to Green Bay.
There were a few rookie mistakes in his regular-season debut Thursday, but in general McCarthy liked what he saw on film.
“He got a good opportunity up in Detroit and went the wrong way on a run and still had a hell of a run,” McCarthy said. “He brings a lot of excitement. I’m really happy for John, the opportunity he’s been given, but he’s going to have to compete to get up on the active (game-day) roster.”
Excitement and energy are descriptions often associated with Crockett, who gained the nickname ‘Taz’ from his third-grade basketball coach because of his eccentric behavior on the court. The moniker followed up all the way through the high school and college ranks.
In fact, the Twitter account for North Dakota State’s athletic program even referred to him as Taz when congratulating him on his promotion to the active roster Tuesday. That happens when you put up 5,151 all-purpose yards in 46 games, the second-highest production in program history.
Life is different in the NFL, though. Unlike college, touches aren’t guaranteed every week and Crockett doesn’t know when his next opportunity will come. By the looks of it, McCarthy and the coaching staff plan to give Lacy every opportunity to regain his footing for the stretch run.
If last Thursday proved anything, Crockett hopes it's that he’s ready for anything.
“If they feel like I’m able to contribute in that aspect and … if that’s what they want, that’s what they get,” Crockett said. “These are two great backs and we’re all out here for the greater good of the team. That’s all that matters. Whoever is in the position, they’re out to get the job done.”
firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.