There was no correlation, Eddie Lacy insisted with a laugh. His cinematic selection that night had nothing to do with his performance earlier in the day. Merely a coincidence, he said. The thought never even crossed his mind.
Then, he laughed again. It probably should’ve, he admitted.
When the Green Bay Packers rookie running back got home from Baltimore a few weeks ago, after what was, at that point, the most productive game of his young NFL career – 23 carries for 120 yards against the defending Super Bowl champions – he notified the roughly 66,000 people who follow him (@Lil_Eazy_Ana_42) on Twitter of his evening plans.
Watching The Incredible Hulk.
Suddenly, Lacy was getting all kinds of replies approving of his choice – and drawing parallels between the way the mild-mannered Bruce Banner morphs into the green brute, and the way Lacy changes from the easiest-going dude in the Packers locker room into a contact-seeking, tackle-breaking cement truck in Nikes.
“I don’t know. I’m just more physical I guess,” Lacy replied when asked how he changes when he has the football in the crook of his arm. “I wouldn’t say ‘transform’ … completely.”
Oh, really? Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, whose defense must figure out a way to stop Lacy on Sunday, would like a word, Eddie.
“Big, tough, hard, physical runner,” is how Kelly described Lacy during a conference call with Wisconsin reporters this week, after watching Lacy carry 22 times for a career-best 150 yards in Monday night’s loss to the Chicago Bears. The, unprompted, Kelly added, “He seems like he runs angry.”
And you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.
And Lacy’s running backs coach, Alex Van Pelt? If he had a Twitter account, he might’ve chimed in, too. But Van Pelt makes an important distinction. Lacy isn’t one of those players who gets so amped up on game day that he’s out of control. In fact, when he’s not carrying the ball, he’s just as calm and poised as he is the rest of the week. He may run violently, but he can be so calm during the game and during the week that Van Pelt has to remind himself that it’s just the way Lacy is.
“He’s very laid back. (But) he’s not nonchalant, I don’t think. I think it’s just his makeup,” Van Pelt explained, adding that Lacy’s big-game experience in college at Alabama is likely a factor in that. “Good or bad – he’s just Eddie. He doesn’t overreact one way or another. He’s pretty even-keeled throughout the course of a game. That’s good at this level.
“It’s not a rollercoaster. He’s the same guy, good, bad, ugly. He just maintains his composure and goes on to the next play, which is a good quality.”
In fact, Van Pelt confessed, there are times in the running backs room when Van Pelt isn’t sure Lacy is paying attention. Yet he always is.
“You’ll look back there at times and think he’s not locked in. You’ll ask him a question and he spits out the answer. He doesn’t ask a lot of questions, but he’s always listening, he’s always alert in the meetings,” Van Pelt said. “I think he’s been in enough big games now where there’s not one that’s too big for him. That, with his makeup and his calm demeanor, I think it helps.”
The Packers certainly will be counting on Lacy now more than ever. With starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers sidelined with a broken collarbone, the offense will lean heavily on the run, even though coach Mike McCarthy insisted this week that he won’t alter the offense significantly – which is technically true, since the combination of Lacy’s production, the offensive line’s improvement and the play-caller’s commitment to the run has made the Packers a legitimate running team.
“We’re going to play our game,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Thursday. “We’re going to run it and throw it.”
Perhaps, but that means a healthy dose of Lacy, who’s carried the ball at least 22 times in each of the past five games. During that time, he’s rushed for 545 yards (109 yards per game), the most in the NFL over that time frame. After going 44 regular-season games without a 100-yard individual rusher, the Packers have gotten two 100-yard games and a 99-yard game from Lacy in the past five weeks.
“He’s a hell of a player for us. He’s always getting positive yards, and that’s what you want to see,” right guard T.J. Lang said of Lacy, who fell to the second round (No. 61 overall) in the NFL Draft this spring. “He’s a guy, even when he’s wrong he seems to be right and get positive yards.”
On the season, Lacy has rushed 134 times for 596 yards, ranking him eighth in the NFL despite missing essentially two games with a concussion. He suffered it on his first carry against Washington on Sept. 15 and caused him to miss the following week’s game at Cincinnati on Sept. 22.
Since his return, though, Lacy has been nearly unstoppable. Against the Bears on Monday night, after Rodgers’ injury, the Packers handed the ball to Lacy on their next four offensive plays and six of their first seven snaps – until he was replaced by James Starks and backup quarterback Seneca Wallace threw an interception on the eighth play of the possession.
While it stands to reason that the Eagles will be expecting Lacy to get the ball plenty on Sunday, the Rodgers-less Packers would be hard-pressed to find a rookie better equipped to carry the offense.
“He’s a stud. He’s a big-time player,” Rodgers said. He was just getting warmed up. “He’s a winner, he knows how to play the game, he finishes his runs, he’s a tough kid, he’s smart, he cares about it, he’s got a great charisma about him, a great attitude around the locker room.
“I think the key is to continue to remind him that he has a great upside and we expect consistency every week. Consistency is the antithesis of complacency in our business. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. We expect Eddie to continue to get better.”
And then, there’s that personality of his. In Rodgers’ nine years in Green Bay, he’s always said little-known offensive lineman Tony Palmer, whose brief Packers career ended with a neck injury, had the best laugh he’s ever heard. Lacy has brought back those memories for him.
“I think he’s got a great personality,” Rodgers said. “He’s laid back, he enjoys a good joke. He has one of those contagious laughs. I’m not going to put it on the Tony Palmer level; Tony Palmer had the most incredible, contagious laugh that you just couldn’t help but start laughing. Ryan Pickett has a very similar laugh. So Tony Palmer’s on top, then Pick, and then Eddie’s kind of sneaking up the laugh boards there.
“He’s fun to be around. He cares about it, he puts the time in, he’s very sharp, but he’s always good for a laugh as well.”
Except when he has the ball.
“(I) just run physically. Try not to get tackled by the first person,” Lacy said. “When you make contact, make sure the defender feels you. You just run powerful and don’t go down by that first hit.”
When reminded of the Hulk comparison again after that remark, Lacy laughed again.
“That’s just how I am, man,” he said. “I don’t know, man. It’s all for me about being comfortable. The more comfortable I am, the better I am.”
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.