NFL Nation: James Starks

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ask Eddie Lacy about his home, and the Green Bay Packers running back can't tell you much -- except what his family has told him.

That will change next week, when he returns to New Orleans to start his bye week. And he'll spend it in the house his family longed for ever since theirs was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

His parents finally moved into that new house in August -- while Lacy was busy with training camp -- after living in a trailer for the better part of a decade since the disaster wiped out their home in Gretna, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans.

"They sent me pictures," Lacy said this week. "They're excited to have their own house, their own back yard, pretty much everything is theirs. It's not a trailer. They've got a lot of room. It's crazy, but they're definitely more comfortable."

Lacy will see that soon enough.

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesEddie Lacy has seen his numbers drop in his sophomore season but could be in line for a big workload against the Saints.
First, he has business to take care of on the other side of the Mississippi, where the Packers play the Saints Sunday night at the Superdome.

In what can perhaps be described as a disappointing encore to his rookie season, Lacy is coming off his most efficient game of the season. Last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, he rushed for 63 yards on just 12 carries. His 5.3-yard average was his second best of the season, behind only his 105-yard performance on 13 carries two weeks earlier against the Minnesota Vikings.

Lacy was in full grind-it-out mode against the Panthers. Unlike the game against the Vikings, when he had a long run of 29 yards, he did not have a gain longer than 11 yards against Carolina. He also matched his season high with three catches.

ProFootballFocus.com credited Lacy with nine broken tackles on rushes and receptions combined, although the Packers' coaching staff said their total was well into the teens.

Despite a reduced number of touches this season -- an average of 13.1 carries per game this season compared to 18.9 last season -- Lacy has four rushing touchdowns in his last four games. During most of that stretch, he has split snaps with James Starks. But with Starks battling an ankle injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday, Lacy could go back to being the workhorse back he was last season, when he led all NFL rookies with 1,178 rushing yards.

"You want to score, you want to get 100 yards, you know, you want to do everything that makes you look good," Lacy said. "But I just want to be able to contribute, and that's pass blocking, getting out on the check-down, the whole nine yards. I may not have 100 yards. I may not even get 60, but you know, the yards that I do have definitely will contribute and make sure we're in a great position to win the game, which is the ultimate goal."

So if Lacy's trip goes according to plan, he'll travel with the Packers to New Orleans on Saturday, have a productive game in a victory on Sunday night, fly back with the team to Green Bay early Monday morning and then turn around and head back to New Orleans on Monday night.

And he'll finally see that house.

"It's a great feeling, especially for me coming home," Lacy said. "I don't have to worry about coming home, staying in the trailer and sleeping on the sofa no more. I get to come home to a house, air conditioning, everything's working, [a] sofa, my own bed. It's just a homely feeling now."
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With time to reflect, Aaron Rodgers may see this stretch of football -- one that has all sorts of historical milestones that we'll get too soon enough – as one of the finest of his career.

But late Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers quarterback, who last week insisted the offense he directs still was not humming along as he would like, remained unwilling to concede that much has changed.

Who knows what it will take to get Rodgers to acquiesce, but apparently this kind of start to a game -- touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown, punt, touchdown -- in Sunday's 38-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers apparently did not satisfy his criteria.

At least he was willing to give an inch or two this week.

"I think we're getting closer," Rodgers said.

Rodgers wants more yards (the Packers managed 363 on Sunday) and more opportunity (they ran just 56 offensive plays). But here's why it might be time for Rodgers to admit this offense is rolling: For the first time this season, it resembled days like in 2011, when Rodgers was in the midst of his MVP season and had a smorgasbord of options in the passing game.

In Sunday's dismantling of the Panthers, Rodgers' 19 completions were spread amongst nine different players, a season high. That's in contrast to three times this season, including last week's game at Miami, when Rodgers completed passes to just five different players.

In 2011, Rodgers had seven games in which he completed passes to at least nine different players. Last season, it happened once, and it came against the Philadelphia Eagles when Rodgers was a spectator because of his collarbone injury.

"Back in '11, I feel like we spread it around a little more," said Rodgers, who was 19-of-22 for 255 yards with three touchdowns on Sunday. "We've had a lot of targets for Jordy [Nelson] and Randall [Cobb] this year, so we've tried the last four games to find ways to move those guys around and get them positive matchups."

This wasn't just the Jordy Nelson show, although the NFL's receiving yardage leader entering the week still managed four catches for 80 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown (his fourth straight game with a score).

Five different Packers scored touchdowns, including rushing touchdowns by Eddie Lacy and James Starks (who combined for 99 yards on 19 carries). When Rodgers also can include Cobb (six catches for 121 yards and his eighth touchdown of the season) and Davante Adams (who had a 21-yard touchdown catch) plus completions to two different tight ends, it qualifies as offensive diversity.

"Everybody got involved," said Cobb, who has matched his career high for touchdown passes in just seven games. "We were able to move the ball really well. Just drive after drive, able to capitalize and put points on the board. At the end of the day, that's the kind of offense we want to be, continue to be. We ran the ball well, we passed the ball well. Everything was open for us."

Had Rodgers not sailed a ball over tight end Richard Rodgers' head in the end zone on his final throw of the game late in the third quarter, he would have finished with four touchdown passes and a passer rating of 157.6 (on a scale in which 158.3 is the max). Still, he finished with just two other incompletions, and a harsh grader might consider both of them drops. When he gave way to Matt Flynn in the fourth quarter, Rodgers' final rating of 154.5 was the second-best mark of his career.

For the fourth straight game (all wins for the 5-2 Packers) he threw at least three touchdowns without an interception. Only Tom Brady (in 2007) has done that in a season.

He ran his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 192, his career high and the second-best total in team history behind Bart Starr (294, 1964-65).

All of it is starting to feel like 2011, when Rodgers was on the best roll of his career.

"I'll say this about Aaron: Aaron is a much better today than he was in 2011," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "His responsibility level has increased a lot since then. So, what he does during the course of the week, during the course of the game, at the line of scrimmage, the communication between Alex Van Pelt and myself, he is, in my opinion, watching him grow throughout his career, he's clearly a better player."

What's holding back Eddie Lacy?

October, 17, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Eddie Lacy says he's the same player who rushed for 1,178 yards last season and was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year.

But the Green Bay Packers' offense, well that's different.

Lacy played half of last season without quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While teams loaded up to stop the run during that time, Packers coach Mike McCarthy still put the ball in Lacy's hands far more often than he has through six games this season, when Lacy has averaged 13.3 carries per game, more than five and a half fewer than last season.

Is that enough to explain why Lacy has averaged barely more than 50 yards rushing this season -- or nearly 30 fewer yards per game than last year (see chart)?

"Particularly when you have big running backs, I've always felt you gain 1 or 2 yards in the first quarter, 2 or 3 in the second quarter, 3 and 4 yards in the third quarter and then the fourth quarter, man, Katy bar the door," McCarthy said.

Yet McCarthy has defied his own reasoning by relying less on the running game and also splitting time between Lacy and James Starks. In Sunday's comeback win over the Miami Dolphins, it was Starks -- not Lacy -- who got the call for most of the final two drives. Starks' season average of 4.3 yards per attempt is a half-yard better than Lacy's and Sunday against the Dolphins, Starks' averaged a full yard more (3.9 to 2.9).

So McCarthy finds himself in a bit of a quandary. He would like to use both of his backs in an effort to keep them fresh over the long haul, yet he knows both thrive when their attempts are higher.

"They really haven't been given that opportunity, but it's a long season,” McCarthy said. "This is why we have this approach. We're fortunate enough to have two guys, so as far as the way the rotation's gone, I feel good about it."

The results, however, show that the Packers' running game is nowhere close to what it was last season, when it ranked seventh in the league. Through six games, they ranked 24th in rushing yards (94.8 per game) and 21st in rushing average (3.9 yards per carry).

Lacy, whose only 100-yard game came in Week 5 against the Minnesota Vikings on a night when he carried the ball only 13 times, insisted it's possible to replicate last year's success even without 20-plus carries, which he received 11 times last season (including playoffs).

"That's your job," Lacy said, "so you have to."

Before he ever saw Lacy play a snap, McCarthy went into last season looking for a 1-2 running back punch. But when injuries hit DuJuan Harris and Jonathan Franklin, Lacy became the workhorse, while Starks played a complementary role.

Now, the Packers are back to a running-back-by-committee format. The last two games, Lacy and Starks have played almost the exact same number of snaps -- 66 for Lacy and 65 for Starks. In those two games, Lacy has 27 carries to Starks' 20, but Starks has one more catch, four, than Lacy.

"When I came here, my job was to get them ready for all three downs," first-year running backs coach Sam Gash said. "That was kind of the way I was told to do it. It wasn't, Eddie's going to have 300 carries, James is going to have 200. That was never said to me. The only thing that was said to me was, 'We want to win.'"

Lacy has said repeatedly dating to the offseason that he expected this year to be different for two reasons: Opposing defenses know what to expect from him, and a healthy Rodgers means few rushing attempts.

"We're definitely not going to get under center and run the ball every play this year," Lacy said. "It doesn't make sense to do that. You have the best quarterback, why get under center and run the ball every play?"

So the offense is different, but is Lacy?

"I'm the same," he said.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The crowd that surrounded Eddie Lacy at his locker late Thursday night had swelled considerably when someone pointed out the scene a few paces from where the Green Bay Packers running back held court.

There sat T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, the Packers' starting guards, alone at their lockers with nary a microphone, recorder or notebook-toting soul within talking distance after the Packers' 42-10 destruction of the Minnesota Vikings on a rainy night at Lambeau Field.

"I think that sucks," Lacy said. "I really think it sucks, man."

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
John Konstantaras/Getty ImagesEddie Lacy broke out for 105 yards on 13 carries, most of them coming between the tackles.
Like any appreciative running back would, Lacy wanted Lang, Sitton and the rest of the blocking unit to receive credit for his first 100-yard rushing game -- 105 to be exact, on 13 carries (two of which were touchdowns) -- of the season.

But even Lang, who finally drew a few inquirers after Lacy finished talking, knew what was different about the running game on this night after four weeks of struggles had left the reigning NFL offensive rookie of the year frustrated with his lack of production.

"That's Eddie, man," Lang said.

Or perhaps more accurately, that was the Eddie of 2013.

The indecisiveness that Lacy showed early this season -- when his first four games produced just 161 yards and an average of 3.0 yards per carry -- was nowhere to be found. On the first carry of the Packers' second series, Lacy ran off right tackle and accelerated around the end for 18 yards.

On the next play, it was much the same, except this time it went around left tackle for 29 yards. On consecutive carries, he had his two longest runs of the season.

So what changed?

It might have started with a conversation between Lacy and running backs coach Sam Gash earlier in the week.

"One thing that I noticed that I did, and Coach Gash pointed out, was when I made my decision, I made it," Lacy said. "I just got my pad level down and just drove it and made whoever had to hit me make it a tough hit on their behalf instead of slowing down and hitting the air brakes, as he said."

There were cut-back runs, too, like his 11-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The play, on which Lacy ran into left tackle David Bakhtiari, looked like so many others early in the season that had gone nowhere. But this time, Lacy quickly changed his course and found a hole to the right.

"It was just a natural reaction just to run the other way," Lacy said. "I didn't know what was there or who was there, but it ended up working."

And then there was his final carry of the night, his 10-yard touchdown with 3:42 left in the third quarter. When he turned the corner on an outside zone play, he lowered his shoulder and drilled Vikings safety Robert Blanton with such force that Blanton's helmet flew off.

"It was just me and the safety, and it's a business decision on his behalf," Lacy said. "So I just lowered my pads, and we just went from there."

It was vintage Lacy, if the word vintage can be used to describe a second-year running back. Even though Lacy's best runs of the first month of the season had come on shotgun plays, all of his action against the Vikings came with Rodgers lined up under center. The fact that he gained 91 of his yards and scored one of his touchdowns on runs between the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, proved beneficial for an offense that had relied so heavily on receiver Jordy Nelson coming in.

The combination of Lacy and James Starks (46 yards on 12 carries) helped the Packers rush for a season-high 156 yards that nearly doubled their previous best of 80 yards (in both Weeks 1 and 2).

"It's important to get Eddie and James going," Rodgers said. "You have to have two backs in this league. Eddie didn't have a lot of carries tonight. We talked during the week about maybe 20 to 25 touches, but he had 13 efficient carries. He finished off his touchdown run the way he finishes off runs."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – When a team ranks 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, there are myriad problems with its running game.

And that's the case with the Green Bay Packers, who after three games are averaging just 78.7 yards on the ground.

But a review of Sunday's 19-7 loss at the Detroit Lions – a game in which the Packers rushed 22 times for 76 yards – showed a particular problem on one specific run call: the toss play.

The Packers ran that play six times in their 22 rushing attempts (or 27.3 percent of their runs) and netted just 12 yards. And on one of those plays, James Starks took a toss on third-and-1 in the second quarter and picked up 15 yards.

The other five toss plays produced the following:
  • Zero yards (by Eddie Lacy) on a first-and-10 play in the first quarter.
  • Zero yards (by Starks) on second-and-10 play in the first quarter.
  • Two yards (by Starks) on second-and-3 in the second quarter, one play before his 15-yard gain.
  • Minus-2 yards (by Lacy) on a second-and-3 play in the third quarter.
  • Minus-3 yards (by DuJuan Harris) on a first-and-10 play in the third quarter.

On those five plays, the Packers netted minus-3 yards.

Four of those five plays helped contribute to drives that ended with punts.

On Lacy's run for minus-2, right tackle Bryan Bulaga got beat by defensive end Jason Jones, who made the tackle.

On Harris' run for minus-3, fullback John Kuhn made a diving block attempt and missed.

"It seemed like we had some plays and opportunities to have big runs and just couldn't finish the play," Packers right guard T.J. Lang said of the running game in general. "It's always tough running the ball against them. We know that with their defensive front. I think when we watch film [Monday], we're going to see that we left some yards out on the field. We have to find a way to pick the running game up. The first three games, it’s been disappointing."
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DETROIT -- It was just one play, one failed play, but in many ways it encapsulated everything that was wrong with the Green Bay Packers' offense in Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

It was fourth-and-5 from the Lions' 20-yard line with 6:59 remaining. Jordy Nelson, the NFL's receiving yardage leader through the first two weeks of the season, found himself open up the right seam. It's a route he has run, and run successfully, hundreds of times. As Nelson took the route to the post, quarterback Aaron Rodgers saw him break free and fired what would have been a touchdown that could have at least given the Packers a chance at a comeback victory for the second straight week.

And the ball came up short and well behind Nelson.

Game over.

With the Rodgers-Nelson connection off -- Nelson had just five catches for 59 yards after combining for 18 receptions and an NFL-high 292 yards the first two weeks -- the Packers (1-2) had little chance given their lack of a running game and dearth of playmakers at the other skill positions.

The result was the lowest scoring output of a game that Rodgers started and finished -- and his second-lowest passing yardage total in such games -- since he took over as the Packers' quarterback in 2008, leaving it open to wonder what exactly is missing from what has been and what was supposed to be a prolific offense.

"There's a lot missing," said Rodgers, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 162 yards. "There's execution missing. We haven't been able to run the ball very well in any of the three games. We just haven't executed as well as we have in the past in the passing game."

Forget for now about the Packers' woeful running game, which totaled just 76 yards on 22 carries and featured a fumble by Eddie Lacy on his second carry of the game. That Rodgers & Co. could not shred a Lions' second-handed secondary which was missing starting strong safety James Ihedigbo and also had to play its fourth, fifth and sixth different nickel defensive backs of the season at various points on Sunday is perhaps most troublesome.

It showed that even a patchwork secondary can take away one player -- Nelson -- if it wants to and expose the lack of weapons around him. The Packers dropped at least three passes, one each by Randall Cobb, James Starks and Jarrett Boykin.

Cobb called his three-catch, 29-yard showing "embarrassing."

"I've got to figure out what it is that I can do to help and do more and give this team more," Cobb said.

Although the only points came on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless in the first quarter, the Packers' tight ends have not come close to replicating the big-play threat that Jermichael Finley provided before his neck injury last season.

"We need to find a way to get those guys the ball when they're really trying to take Jordy away," Rodgers said. "Find a way to get Randall the football more, and we've got to run block better and we've got to run better."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy admitted that perhaps he stuck with an unproductive running game too long, saying he "maybe should have given [Rodgers] the ball completely earlier," but the normally accurate Rodgers missed his mark more than usual, so it might not have mattered.

Even before the missed fourth-down throw to Nelson, Rodgers overthrew Cobb on a roll-out pass on third down that killed the opening drive of the third quarter and then short-hopped a ball to Boykin on third down that ruined the next possession.

Counting the Nelson play, five of Rodgers' incompletions where underthrown, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That came a week after six underthrown incompletions (the most of his career).

"We got what we wanted," Nelson said of the fourth-and-5 play. "We had an opportunity to make a play and just weren't able to connect on the throw. It's not an easy game. Sometimes we make it look easier than what it was, but today was not easy at all."

Observation Deck: Green Bay Packers

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
11:35
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers' preseason was significantly more productive this summer than last -- not that the Green Bay Packers quarterback needs it to get ready for the regular season.

But a year after he played just five series and 45 plays without scoring a touchdown in the preseason, Rodgers and the starting offense looked regular-season ready for the most part in Friday's 31-21 win over the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field.

In six series, Rodgers led three touchdown drives, throwing a pair of touchdown passes. The only black mark was a pair of three-and-out series in which there were offensive-line breakdowns. Although he completed just 9 of 20 passes, Rodgers threw for 139 yards and had touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson (12 yards) and Andrew Quarless (6 yards). There was one troubling stretch in the first quarter during which Rodgers got hit on four out of five dropbacks, including a sack by Raiders defensive end LaMarr Woodley.

With Rodgers almost certain not to play in Thursday's preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, his preseason will consist of eight series that went for four touchdowns, one field goal and three punts. In two preseason games, Rodgers combined to complete 20 of 33 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. That's a passer rating of 116.6.

Here are some other thoughts on the Packers’ third preseason game of the year:
  • Maybe it was because he was playing against lesser competition in the fourth quarter, but Scott Tolzien was more productive than Matt Flynn. The Packers put up just three points in four possessions with Flynn, who completed just 4 of 10 passes for 37 yards with one interception (an 11.2 passer rating). Tolzien led a touchdown drive on his first possession, capping it with a 15-yard pass to Alex Gillett. Tolzien completed 8 of 11 passes for 107 yards and looked sharp doing so. The backup quarterback competition likely will go down to the end of the preseason.
  • The Packers' tight ends had all kinds of trouble blocking in the running game but made up for it in the passing game. On the first drive, rookie starter Richard Rodgers missed a block that led to a 1-yard loss for Eddie Lacy. However, on the next play, Rodgers ran a post route for a 32-yard completion. On a second-and-goal from the 3 in the second quarter, Quarless couldn't handle first-round pick Khalil Mack, who dumped James Starks for a 3-yard loss. On the next play, Rodgers found Quarless for a 6-yard touchdown pass.
  • Lacy played only one series for the second straight game but was productive once again. He carried six times for 36 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run. He has carried 11 times for 61 yards in the preseason.
  • DuJuan Harris, the No. 3 running back, does not look like he has lost any of his quickness or elusiveness after missing all of last season because of a knee injury. He rushed for 56 yards on 12 carries and had a pair of receptions for 42 yards.
  • Outside linebacker Julius Peppers has gotten better with each game. Playing almost the entire first half, Peppers recorded one sack and four tackles overall (including one for a loss on a running play).
  • After it gave up 60 yards on the Raiders' opening drive, the only yardage the Packers' No. 1 defense allowed over the next five series came on a pair of pass interference penalties on cornerback Sam Shields. Otherwise, the Raiders gained zero net yards on those drives.
  • Jayrone Elliott did it again. The undrafted rookie outside linebacker, who had three sacks in a four-play stretch the previous week against the Rams, got another one in the third quarter when he beat Raiders backup left tackle Jack Cornell, an undrafted free agent in 2012. He also batted down a pass.
  • The only injury announced was to nose tackle B.J. Raji, who left with an arm injury in the first quarter. Raji remained on the sideline for the rest of the first half but did not return to the game. The Packers got a scare when center JC Tretter appeared to injure his knee, but after getting checked out by Dr. Pat McKenzie, he returned to the game without missing a play.

Packers Camp Report: Day 16

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:
  • Maybe Monday will be remembered as the day the light went on for first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. After going 15 straight practices without an interception, the rookie safety picked off two passes during a one-hour and 29-minute session without pads inside the Don Hutson Center. Clinton-Dix's first pick came off fourth-string quarterback Chase Rettig, who badly overthrew receiver Chris Harper. His second one was a little more impressive because it came on the second play of the two-minute drill by the starting offense. Running back James Starks let a dump-off pass from Aaron Rodgers ricochet off his hands and Clinton-Dix plucked it out of the air. You could argue that both interceptions were gift-wrapped to him, but at least he made a couple of plays. "I thought it was great to actually touch the ball again after a while, so that felt good," Clinton-Dix said.
  • The defense won both two-minute drills, although Matt Flynn went a little longer with the No. 2 offense than Rodgers' two-plays-and-out possession. Flynn directed an eight-play drive that ended on fourth-and-10 from the defense's 21-yard line. On the last play, safety Chris Banjo picked off a pass that went off the outstretched hands of tight end Justin Perillo.
  • Other than the two-minute period, it was a stellar day by both Flynn and Scott Tolzien, who remain in a competition for the backup job. Flynn's best throw was on a deep corner route to Alex Gillett. He placed the ball perfectly out of the reach of cornerback Jarrett Bush. Tolzien had a couple of noteworthy throws, a go route down the right sideline that Myles White caught without breaking stride and a 30-yard corner route to Perillo over Clinton-Dix. "I thought they had sharp practices," coach Mike McCarthy said of Flynn and Tolzien. "It was our best tempo of the year. We were done extremely early in every period and the takeaways by the defense in the two-minute drill obviously added to that, so I was very pleased with the energy and the tempo. I think it's going to be a lot of good video. So, I thought both of those guys did a lot of good things."
  • The only new injury was to tight end Brandon Bostick (lower leg). He is expected to miss the rest of the preseason. Others who did not practice were: running back Rajion Neal (knee), tight end Colt Lyerla (knee), offensive lineman Don Barclay (knee), receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee) and defensive tackle Letroy Guion (hamstring). McCarthy would not say whether Abbrederis or Barclay had their ACL reconstruction surgeries yet. Both will eventually be placed on injured reserve.
  • For the first time all camp, rain forced practice inside the Don Hutson Center. That means there are only four open practices left in training camp. The next one is Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. local time.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's only his second NFL training camp, but the Green Bay Packers are taking a veteran approach with running back Eddie Lacy.

Maybe not quite the Adrian Peterson tactic, but close.

Lacy
The reigning NFL offensive rookie of the year was held out of Saturday's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans and indications are Lacy might not do much, if anything, in the remaining three exhibition games.

It's not an injury issue; the 24-year-old Lacy has taken on a full workload in practice. But just like the Minnesota Vikings do with Peterson, the Packers may be taking a similar approach with their workhorse running back when it comes to the preseason.

"It's not my goal for his workload to be very high in preseason games," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday.

Peterson, 29, played one series in the third preseason game last summer, but before that had not carried the ball in the exhibition season since 2011.

Lacy said Tuesday he did not know if that was going to be the Packers' approach but doubted he would go into the regular-season opener at Seattle on Sept. 4 without any game action.

"That's definitely something else that you would have to ask the coaching staff," Lacy said. "But as far as me as a player, whatever opportunities I'm given, whether it's [playing in] 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."

If anything, Lacy's snaps in practice have increased. McCarthy wants to turn Lacy into a three-down back and practiced him extensively in that role during the early portion of camp.

But when it came time to suit up against the Titans, Lacy joined quarterback Aaron Rodgers in sweats on the sideline. James Starks started in place of Lacy and picked up where he left off last season, when he averaged 5.5 yards per carry as Lacy's primary backup. Starks rushed for 49 yards on just six carries, including a 20-yard touchdown, against the Titans.

Matt Flynn got the call in place of Rodgers, who is expected to start Saturday against the St. Louis Rams and again in the third preseason game against the Oakland Raiders but almost certainly will not play in the finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, one week before the opener.

"That's usually how it goes," McCarthy said of the preseason plan for Rodgers.

Questions about Lacy's durability have followed him since his days at Alabama. But his pounding style largely held up last season. He missed one full game and most of another because of a concussion early in the season and then missed half of another late-season game because of ankle injury. In 14 games, he rushed for a Packers’ rookie record of 1,178 yards.

But given the his penchant for contact, it's worth wondering how long Lacy can last.

"That's kind of a tough question," Lacy said. "It doesn't matter if you're a power back or a speed back, as long as you're a running back, nobody knows how long you can play the game."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Rajion Neal did exactly what Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy wanted someone to do in Saturday's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans: The rookie running back got the attention of the coaches.

He did so by rushing for 39 yards on just five carries, including a 12-yard touchdown run in which he ran over a Titans defender at the goal line in the third quarter. And then without a moment's notice, his night ended when he took a blow to the knee at the end of his 22-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter.

The undrafted rookie from the University of Tennessee did not practice on Monday, when a pair of crutches were propped up against his locker. Walking without the crutches, Neal vowed to return quickly, perhaps even for preseason game No. 2 at St. Louis on Saturday.

"I've got to play; there ain't no way around it," Neal said. "Being in the position I'm in, I can't afford it."

There's no denying his position improved based on his performance against the Titans. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Neal had shown signs of that kind of ability during the first two weeks of practice and validated it when he averaged 7.8 yards per carry in his preseason debut.

Neal still faces a difficult task to make the team given the depth the Packers have in front of him with Eddie Lacy, James Starks and DuJuan Harris, but at the very least he has caught the attention of McCarthy, who said last week that he wanted players to "jump out" against the Titans.

"I thought he ran strong," McCarthy said Monday. "I thought he did a nice job running his course. Obviously, you like the finish on the touchdown run. I thought he played very well."

He also got the attention of teammates like Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson.

"Aaron and Jordy and all those guys gave me handshakes and told me they like the way I run," Neal said. "So it was definitely a moment you'll remember, and it felt good."

The Packers don't think Neal will be out for long. He said his knee is sore but otherwise sustained no other damage. He has three more preseason games to make his mark, and he intends to be ready.

"There's still a whole lot to prove and a lot more fun to be had," Neal said. "So I'm looking forward to it."
It had all the makings a quarterback's worst nightmare. A hard-driving rain soaked the playing surface at LP Stadium on Saturday night and turned the football into a wet bar of soap.

It barely seemed to bother Scott Tolzien.

Tolzien
In his bid to become Aaron Rodgers' backup with the Green Bay Packers, Tolzien was able to accomplish more than incumbent No. 2 Matt Flynn in the preseason opener, a 20-16 loss at the Tennessee Titans.

With Rodgers given the night off, Flynn got the start. But it was Tolzien who made the most of his playing time. Not that Flynn did much, if anything, that would have caused coach Mike McCarthy to downgrade him, but Tolzien performed better.

"It's a start, but it's nothing more than a start," Tolzien told reporters after the game. "It's up to us as a team to continue to improve. That's what this time is for is to get ready for the regular season."

Along the way, McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson have to decide on their backup quarterback.

Tolzien gave them something to think about. He completed 8 of 12 passes for 124 yards and had a passer rating of 100.7. He showed the same, if not better, arm strength than he displayed in his three appearances last season but none of the poor decision that resulted in the five interceptions he threw in those three games.

"Really, it's the first preseason game," said Tolzien, who would have had even better numbers if not for two dropped passes by receivers among his four incomplete passes. "I don't want to get too excited. It's one game. I think more than anything, it's just exciting for us to play against a different opponent rather than colliding heads with other guys. It's nice to do it against someone else."

Perhaps what impressed McCarthy most was that Tolzien followed his worst play, a fumble on a ball that slipped out of his hand while he was rolling to right, with a 38-yard looping completion to Chris Harper that helped set up a touchdown run by rookie Rajion Neal.

"To come back and hit the second-and-20 play to get us down there in the red zone," McCarthy said, "I thought Scott did a lot of good things."

Praised for his work ethic during the offseason, his first in McCarthy's system after arriving in Green Bay last September, Tolzien did not make many attention-grabbing plays during the first two weeks of training camp. So with Rodgers held out of the game, it was no surprise that McCarthy opened the preseason with Flynn, who replaced Tolzien last season and kept the Packers' season alive with a pair of wins in four starts before Rodgers returned from his broken collarbone.

Like Tolzien, Flynn led one scoring drive against the Titans. His came on the opening possession and against the Titans' defensive starters, but it was mostly the work of running back James Starks, who carried six times on the drive for 49 yards (including a 20-yard touchdown run). Tolzien played mostly against the Titans' backups.

Flynn finished 5-of-10 passing for 49 yards with a long completion of 24 yards on a short pass to tight end Brandon Bostick, who broke two tackles along the way.

"I was comfortable out there, but it was tough," Flynn said of the conditions. "It was coming down out there. Didn't feel like I handled the ball really well grip-wise making throws. There was some poor throws out there, but you take a step back and a game like this, you have to pick out the positives out of it. I thought the decision-making was good. I thought I was going to the right places with the ball. Just didn't really handle the ball really well."
The Green Bay Packers decided not to play starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Saturday's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans in part so that they could take a long look at their backup quarterbacks.

They probably liked what they saw from Scott Tolzien in the 20-16 loss in tough weather conditions at LP Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.

Not that there was anything wrong with Matt Flynn, who started and played most of the first half against the Titans' defensive starters, but he did not move the ball as well as Tolzien did against Tennessee's backups. After Flynn went 5-of-10 for 49 yards, Tolzien relieved him for the final series of the second quarter. He played into the fourth quarter and completed 8 of 12 passes for 124 yards. At least two of Tolzien's passes were dropped, not including Chris Harper's drop on a two-point conversion pass.

Each quarterback led one touchdown drive, both of which ended with rushing touchdowns, and neither threw an interception while playing in near-constant rain.

Some other thoughts on the Packers' first preseason game of the year:
  • It was startling to see first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix fail to tackle 5-foot-8, 170-pound running back Dexter McCluster, who turned the miss into a 10-yard gain, but the rookie safety recovered on the next play to dump Bishop Sankey after a 1-yard gain. Clinton-Dix also had a nice pass breakup on a seam route by Taylor Thompson. Thompson beat Clinton-Dix off the line, but he recovered to knock the ball out.
  • It was surprising to see rookie receiver Davante Adams get the first crack on punt returns, given that he has had limited opportunities to do so in practice, but he might not get another chance after muffing his two opportunities. He recovered the first one and returned it 8 yards, but the Titans got the second one, and it led to their lone first-half touchdown. Maybe it was the wet ball, because the normally steady Micah Hyde muffed a fair catch in the third quarter, although he recovered it. Running back DuJuan Harris returned the opening kickoff 40 yards, but bobbled his second turn.
  • With Eddie Lacy held out, James Starks looked like the same running back as last season, when he averaged a career-best 5.5 yards per carry as a backup. Starks made a nice cut on his 20-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and carried six times for 49 yards, mostly against the Titans' starters. Harris, in his first game action since the end of the 2012 season, carried seven times for 18 yards with a long run of 11 and had a pair of short receptions. Undrafted rookie running back Rajion Neal had an impressive debut with five carries for 39 yards (including a 12-yard touchdown in the third quarter).
  • The Packers had to like what they saw from starting center JC Tretter in his first NFL action. While the No. 1 offensive line played just one series, the second-year pro remained in for two more series with the second unit. He had a good block on the backside of Starks' touchdown and had no problems snapping the wet ball.
  • The only other injuries announced during the game were to Neal and linebacker Joe Thomas. Both undrafted rookies sustained knee injuries.
Examining the Green Bay Packers' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)
The Packers have not kept three quarterbacks on their opening-day roster since 2008, but they might be inclined to do so this season in order to avoid a situation like last year, when Rodgers broke his collarbone. Coach Mike McCarthy is high on Tolzien, who made two starts last season, but Flynn has proved he can win as a backup in Green Bay.

Running backs (4)

The return of Harris, who missed all of last season because of a knee injury, gives the Packers insurance behind Lacy and Starks. Kuhn is valuable both as a fullback and on special teams. It's possible they'll keep a fourth halfback, but the loss of Johnathan Franklin to a career-ending neck injury has left them without a strong in-house candidate for that spot.

Receivers (6)

The Packers often keep only five receivers, but given that they drafted three -- Adams (second round), Abbrederis (fifth round) and Janis (seventh round) -- there's a good chance they will keep six. Abbrederis and Janis will not only have to show they're better prospects than second-year pros Myles White and Chris Harper, but they also could help themselves if they can return kicks.

Tight ends (4)

McCarthy likes tight ends (he has kept five before), and the wild card is undrafted rookie Colt Lyerla.

Offensive linemen (8)

The Packers typically only activate seven offensive linemen on game day, so they can get away with keeping just eight on the roster. Barclay's ability to play all five positions also allows them some freedom. Lane Taylor could be the ninth lineman if they go that route.

Defensive line (7)

Worthy and Guion have work to do to make the roster, but there's room for them if you count Julius Peppers and Mike Neal among the outside linebackers, which is where they lined up more often in the offseason.

Linebackers (8)

There will be some tough cuts here. Second-year pros Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba both played last year as rookie outside linebackers. It also may be tough for highly touted undrafted rookie Adrian Hubbard to make it.

Cornerbacks (6)

Hayward's return from last season's hamstring injury means he likely will return as the slot cornerback in the nickel package, a role played last year by Micah Hyde (who may primarily play safety this year).

Safeties (4)

The major question here is whether Hyde or Clinton-Dix will be the starter alongside Burnett. Chris Banjo, who played primarily on special teams last season, might be the odd man out.

Specialists (3)

There's no competition at any of these spots.

Packers want to speed up offense

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
10:00
AM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The faster the better.

That's what Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has planned for his offense this season.

And why not, especially with Aaron Rodgers on board with the idea?

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Mike RoemerAaron Rodgers and the Packers are determined to play faster and thus run more plays in 2014.
McCarthy and his quarterback have one primary goal in mind for 2014: Run 75 plays per game.

Do that, and everything else -- big numbers for Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin and possibly one of the new rookie receivers; another 1,000-plus-yard season for Eddie Lacy; solid pass protection -- will fall into place.

"That seems to be the answer to some of the different things that defenses are doing," Rodgers said during an interview this offseason.

The first hint of McCarthy's plans came in February, when he stood at the lectern at the NFL scouting combine and declared that he wants Lacy -- and all of his running backs -- to turn into three-down players in order to limit the need for substitutions, which, of course, slows down the game.

"We play pretty fast, but you always want to play faster," McCarthy said during an interview near the end of the offseason program last month. "With a guy like Aaron, he plays faster than anybody I've ever been around."

McCarthy's offense isn't Chip Kelly's, which averaged 80-plus plays per game when he ran the fastest game in college football at Oregon. But Kelly's offense in the NFL -- despite 53 plays in the first half of his first game as the Philadelphia Eagles' coach last season -- wasn't Kelly's offense in college, either.

The Eagles finished last season 13th out of 32 teams in total offensive plays with 1,054, an average of 65.875 per game.

The Packers ranked 11th with 1,074 total plays (67.125 per game) -- their second-highest total in McCarthy's eight seasons as head coach -- but averaged nearly 69 plays in the games Rodgers finished last season.

"Aaron Rodgers is a beast the way he plays the game, the way he attacks the defense, whether it's his cadence, his ability to recognize defenses to take advantage of a certain pressure, and then on top of it he's so well-rehearsed in this offense," McCarthy said. "If anything, you worry about him just sometimes playing too fast. Not that he's playing too fast, he has the ability to play at such a fast level, it's keeping everyone coordinated to be able to play with him."

And that's where the running backs come into the picture.

As Lacy pounded his way to well-earned yards on first and second down last season, he usually came off the field on third down -- not because he needed a blow but because McCarthy and his offensive staff felt better about using another back (often fullback John Kuhn) in pass protection. That plan usually worked (remember Kuhn's game-saving block on Julius Peppers in the Week 17 division-clinching win over the Bears), but the Packers had to downshift in order to make the change.

This year, McCarthy sees no need to change speeds and no reason to give the defense time to adjust.

"We've always been a fast-tempo offense," he said. "To me, there are two approaches to playing the game of football. Historically, in my opinion because I don't want to offend anybody, defensive coaches want to slow the game down, run the ball, shorten the game. Your offensive coaches more want to pick it up.

"I've always been of the belief of getting as many shots as you can, so we've always emphasized playing as fast as you can. When you have as many three-down players as you can possibly have, obviously your substitution patterns are cleaner. You're not subbing because you have to, you're subbing just when you need to."

That could mean even more no-huddle series this season. Rodgers, who has excelled in the no-huddle offense, likes the plan.

"We always kind of struggle with that, trying to get guys to stay on the field and play all three downs," Rodgers said. "We've had so many injuries over the years, it's made John Kuhn such an irreplaceable guy because he can be the guy who can run and get you a few yards and also be a third-down protection back. He's been amazing at it in two-minute drills. I mean, last year, he made the block of the year. But it would be nice if we could have drives where Eddie can go three plays in a row or James [Starks] could go three plays in a row or DuJuan [Harris] could go three plays in a row and not have to take them out, so we could not have to bring in any subs and you could stay pressuring the defense.

"There’s a lot of substitution that goes on by both teams. The key substitution is usually for third down, because teams run so much on third down. After second down, if you're subbing four or five guys on and off, it's tough to run an offense where you're up-tempo, because everybody has to get the call, and it just takes a little longer. We'd like to play a little faster."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Let's get this out of the way from the top; we know Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson does not draft for need -- or so he says.

But in the months leading up to this week's draft, Thompson and his scouts have spent hundreds of hours not only discussing the prospects who will be available to them but also their current roster and its strengths and weaknesses.

With that in mind, let's break the 12 position groups that make up the roster into four parts based on the following categories of draft needs.

We will define them this way:
  • Part 1: Negligible -- positions where there is little or no need.
  • Part 2: Non-essential -- positions where there is a need but it is not paramount to fill.
  • Part 3: Secondary -- positions where there is a need but not at the critical level.
  • Part 4: Pressing -- positions where it is imperative that help be found.

First up are the negligible needs.

10. Defensive line: Whether you count recently signed pass-rusher Julius Peppers here or as an outside linebacker, it's still a deep position with the return of nose tackle B.J. Raji (who signed a one-year contract), a pair of draft picks last season in first-rounder Datone Jones and fifth-rounder Josh Boyd, and an emerging star in Mike Daniels. If the Packers need short-term help, they could re-sign veterans Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett. That said, Thompson has never been one to pass up a big-bodied player so it wouldn't be a total shock to see him take a defensive lineman high in the draft if the right one fell into his lap.

Possible players of interest: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota; Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame; Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State; Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame.

11. Running back: This could be as deep a group as coach Mike McCarthy has had in his nine seasons thanks to reigning offensive rookie of the year Eddie Lacy plus the return of James Starks, DuJuan Harris, Johnathan Franklin and John Kuhn. The only issues here would be if Harris' knee injury that kept him out all of last season and Franklin's neck injury that ended his rookie year in November remain problematic.

Possible players of interest: None.

12. Specialists: The Packers are set at all three spots -- kicker, punter and long-snapper. Mason Crosby's bounce-back year means the Packers may not even bring another kicker to training camp. Crosby is signed through 2015. Punter Tim Masthay is signed through 2016 and snapper Brett Goode through 2015. There are no issues with either one.

Possible players of interest: None.

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