Rookie Running Backs: Friends, Competitors

Lacy (Benny Sieu - Getty Images)

Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin are rooming together as they start their battle to be the Packers' No. 1 back. As Franklin put it: "We're here to help each other grow and push each other to get better."

Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin say they're already friends. The two Green Bay Packers rookie running backs are also roommates, teammates and competitors.

With the team taking Alabama's Lacy in the second round of last month's NFL draft, then trading up to take UCLA's Franklin in the fourth round, both players understand their connection.

And when they arrived in Green Bay for the team's rookie orientation camp Thursday, they learned they'd be bunking in together at a hotel near the airport, where the rookies are being housed until training camp kicks off in July or they find more 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. It's no different here."

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 down 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 last 43 regular-season games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Over the past three seasons, the Packers' running backs have combined for 12 rushing touchdowns and are averaging only 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 2009 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, could fill that void.

"I mean, 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 if 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 running 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.

The Steelers reportedly passed on Lacy because of toe fusion surgery he had in the spring of 2012, while Broncos president John Elway said after the draft that health concerns were the deciding factor for his team between Lacy and Ball.

"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," Lacy 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."

The 5-10, 205-pound Franklin, meanwhile, isn't conceding anything. He set the UCLA single-season rushing record last year with 1,732 yards, and while he isn't as big as Lacy, he believes he's capable of being an every-down back, too.

"Eddie, he's my roommate. We were laughing all night (Thursday) night. He's a great guy. I met him at the combine," Franklin said. "He's a great player. I'm excited to be on the same team with him. I expect to learn from him and I expect to teach him a little bit.

"They brought us here for a reason. We have to contribute. Competition is going to bring out the best in you. We're definitely going to find out what kind of men we are and what kind of athletes we are. So I'm excited to compete with Eddie and learn from Eddie and get better with him as well."


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