GREEN BAY – When the striking similarity was pointed out to him about a month ago, Eddie Lacy wasn’t sure if he saw the resemblance.
Sure, the Green Bay Packers mild-mannered, easy-going rookie running back does run with a certain violence, to use running backs coach Alex Van Pelt’s word. And his rugged, contact-seeking style would suggest that he undergoes some sort of metamorphosis once he has the football in the crook of his arm, given his laid-back personality when he’s away from the field.
But after seeing coach Mike McCarthy drop a snippet from The Incredible Hulk into last weekend’s motivational highlight film – and then going out and rushing for 141 yards in the Packers’ come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Cowboys to earn NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors – Lacy finally gave in, posting this on his Twitter account (@Lil_Eazy_Ana_42):
Alter ego, indeed.
“I might as well embrace it,” Lacy said with a big, hearty laugh Wednesday afternoon.
The infamous line from Bruce Banner, of course, is You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. And therein lies the irony to Lacy’s preparation for Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers: If there’s any team he should be mad at, it’s the Steelers, who passed on him in last April’s NFL draft and took Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell instead of him – and then publicly leaked their reasoning for passing on him. The Steelers reportedly “would not touch” Lacy because he had toe fusion surgery, making him a risky pick in the Steelers’ opinion.
“I mean, you can use it for motivation, but I’m not one to use external factors for motivation. That’s not my personality,” Lacy said. “To me, it’s only temporary. Like, OK, you’re mad at this one team, so you play angrily against that team. But then where does it go the next week? You have wasted energy then. So I stay constant.”
That consistency has been impressive. Despite missing essentially two games with a concussion – he suffered it on his first carry, a 10-yard gain, against Washington on Sept. 15 and didn’t play the following week against Cincinnati – Lacy last week became only the second rookie running back in team history to eclipse 1,000 yards. His 60-yard run on the opening play of the third quarter ignited the Packers’ comeback from a 26-3 halftime deficit, and his 1-yard touchdown plunge was the game-winner.
“Eddie’s just a special player,” backup quarterback Matt Flynn said Wednesday. “I have a front-row seat to watch him run, and it’s fun. Right now, in December, you’ve got to have it, especially playing outside, especially playing cold-weather games. You’ve got to have a running game. And it makes the passing game that much better.”
He’d certainly be making the Steelers better.
Lacy was the fourth running back selected in the draft, with all four going in the second round: The Bengals took North Carolina’s Giovanni Bernard at No. 37; the Steelers took Bell at No. 48; the Denver Broncos took Wisconsin’s Montee Ball at No. 58; and the Packers took Alabama’s Lacy at No. 61. The Packers actually held the 55th pick before trading back to acquire an extra selection, then saw Ball go off the board while waiting those six picks before going on the clock. Some claimed they “settled” for Lacy.
Of course, it’s worked out pretty well for the Packers, as Lacy has given their offense a previously unseen dimension – imagine how productive he’d be with injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the lineup commanding more respect for the passing game – and enters Sunday seventh in the NFL and No. 1 among rookies in rushing (1,028 yards) and averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Bell, by comparison, has rushed for 646 yards and is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
“It was an easy decision for me,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference when asked about the two backs. “Obviously, Lacy's a top-quality back, but probably it's a matter of preference -- just like I'm sure Cincinnati went through the same discussions and thoughts when they took Giovani Bernard in front of both of them."
In a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field on Wednesday, Tomlin was more cautious with his comparative comments about Bell and Lacy.
“We weren’t comparing Bell to Lacy. Obviously, we were evaluating everyone and we thought that Bell was the guy for us, just like I’m sure Green Bay thought Lacy was the guy for them or even, more significant than that, the Cincinnati Bengals thought Giovani Bernard was the guy for them,” Tomlin said. “I think that those are all the decisions that we all go through during the course of the draft. There’s no right or wrong, globally speaking. It’s about what’s right for you and Le’Veon Bell was right for us.”
Asked if they considered taking Lacy, Tomlin replied, “Certainly. We evaluate all the prospects in the draft and, obviously, we wanted a running back at that spot and, obviously, Eddie Lacy was in the conversation. Not only did we interview him in Indy, we brought him in for a trip here prior to the draft.”
Lacy confirmed that he took a pre-draft visit to Pittsburgh, but when asked if the visit was for medical reasons, he replied simply, “I honestly don’t remember.” If the whole Pittsburgh storyline bothers him, he sure hides it well.
“They picked the guy they wanted and I landed here,” Lacy said. “I’m very happy here and I’m doing good.”
Yes, he is, and his teammates couldn’t be more thrilled with him – even if they still haven’t quite figured out the laid-back guy who transforms when he gets the ball.
“I’m still getting to know him, but he’s a guy that doesn’t really show a lot of emotions. He’s a guy who’s always calm, on game day he’s not like a wild animal out there, he just runs hard,” right guard T.J. Lang said Wednesday. “He’s not satisfied with 8-, 9-yard gains. That’s the thing about his attitude, even when he’s gaining 9, 10 yards, he’s always wanting more. You see the attitude he portrays on every play, and it inspires you to give even more.
“He doesn’t show a lot of emotion, man. He’s a cool, calm guy, and he does his job. As an offensive lineman, he’s a guy you love to block for, and just the attitude that he has, that never-satisfied approach he’s got, that’s a thing a lot of our guys on this team can learn from.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.