In Green Bay, Eddie Lacy welcomes opportunity

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin say they’re already friends. The Green Bay Packers rookie running backs also are roommates, teammates and competitors.

With the Packers taking former Dutchtown High standout Lacy in the second round of last month’s draft, then trading up to grab UCLA’s Franklin in the fourth round, both understand the connection.

And when they arrived in Green Bay for the team’s rookie orientation camp Thursday, they learned they’d be bunking together at a hotel near the airport, where the rookies are being housed until training camp kicks off in July or they find permanent living arrangements.

“We’re roommates in the hotel. We talk. But we’re going to have to compete,” Lacy said. “It’s just like when you’re in college — you get there, you meet the other running backs, you’re all friends but you have to compete.”

Added Franklin: “On the field, we’re competing definitely. But off the field, we’re definitely buddies. But we’re here to help each other grow and push each other to get better.”

And the Packers clearly need to get better in the run game. Whether that improvement comes from Lacy, Franklin or one of the team’s veteran holdovers — DuJuan Harris, Alex Green and James Starks — doesn’t matter. After watching the offense face a steady diet of defenses geared to slow quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his receivers, coach Mike McCarthy wants a more balanced attack.

“We’ve made some scheme adjustments. We have already started that process,” McCarthy said. “Lacy frankly will fit into some of these changes we’ve made. We’ll see how it goes through the offseason and training camp. I’m excited about it.”

The Packers haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in the past 43 regular-season games, the longest active streak in the NFL. In the past three seasons, the Packers’ running backs have combined for 12 rushing touchdowns and are averaging 3.8 yards per carry — fewest in the NFL in both categories.

Not since Ryan Grant put together back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons in 2008 and ’09 have the Packers gotten consistent production from a single ball carrier. The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Lacy, who carried 204 times for 1,322 yards with 17 touchdowns in 14 games last season for Alabama, could fill that void.

“We’re all going to see when the season comes around. I still have to go through practice and the playbook and a whole lot of stuff before I even think about that,” Lacy said when asked whether he could be that back. “If I go out and do what I have to do, everything will fall where it’s supposed to, and I’ll just move on from that.”

Lacy dismissed concerns about his durability, which he acknowledged caused his draft stock to drop. Viewed by many as the top back in the draft, he fell to the Packers at No. 61 — after North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard went 37th to Cincinnati, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell went 48th to Pittsburgh and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball went 58th to Denver.

“I just feel like everything happens for a reason and, even though I didn’t get picked where I was supposed to, I fell to Green Bay. And even though it was the second round, I feel like it’s the perfect place to be,” he said. “I’m not knocking (those teams) for feeling like that, but I feel like I’m in a great situation, and I’m just going to move on from there.”