GREEN BAY, Wis. — Eddie Lacy took the handoff from the left side, powered through to the second level of the defense, and spotted and lined up his target, who happened to be rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Lacy's now and former teammate.
It might have been their time together at Alabama, and now with the Packers, that saved Clinton-Dix from receiving a helmet-shaped tattoo on his chest.
What a welcome-to-the-NFL moment it could have been, too. The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Lacy dipped his shoulder to initiate the contact, as he did so many times at 'Bama and in his banner rookie season with the Packers, but at the last moment Lacy pulled up to spare his guy.
"I think he took it easy on me," Clinton-Dix said, laughing after Wednesday's training camp practice, the team's second so far in full pads.
"Oh yeah, man, I couldn’t do it," Lacy told Shutdown Corner on Wednesday. "But I definitely saw it — it was me and him and it was like … aww, yeah.
"But you're obviously not trying to hurt your teammates. It's not the time and place."
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No, that place would be in games against real opponents, and it's where Lacy made a name for himself with a boffo rookie season that included 1,178 rushing yards and 11 scores. But it's his work in the passing game that could take him to the next level this season. The Packers are an up-tempo offense, and they like their backs to be three-down players — able to run, catch passes and pass block effectively — to prevent slowing down to sub in specialists when they are stepping on the gas.
Head coach Mike McCarthy has seen a difference in Lacy's game in Year 2. The Packers have placed an extra emphasis on throwing the ball to their backs, and McCarthy said that Lacy appears to be making strides in this area.
"Just today we were doing a little inside skeleton drill we run with the backs and tight ends working against the inside linebackers and the safeties, and Eddie was talking about route running and cleaning up some things," McCarthy said. "He had run a nice little route and caught the football, and he said, ‘You know, I did this all last season and never got open.’
"So I think that in and of itself, just working on the little things … pass protection he’s much better at. He had an excellent rookie year, extremely productive, but I think you’re just seeing the growth of him through all aspects of his game."
Lacy, who turned 24 in June, agrees.
“Last year, whenever we’d come out on a route, it was called stemming — you want to stem the defender out and go one way and make him feel like you’re going the other way," Lacy said. "Whenever we did the drill, I would never get open because I did not know that part of it.
"Today in practice we went over it, and it was the first time I had really done it. It was OK, and it can get better, of course, but the idea is to set up the defender to get him to guess which way you’re going. Those little things are the kinds of things I am picking up and learning [this year]."
Lacy caught a respectable 35 passes last season but for only 257 yards, and he often gave way to other backs on blitz pickup. But that doesn't mean he wasn't confident in his ability to catch the ball. Lacy gave himself a pretty lofty nickname, calling himself "Randy Moss" whenever he had a chance to show off his hands.
“It was mostly a joke," he said. "You know, like, when you were little, and whenever you catch a pass, you want to be the best. The best when I was growing up was Randy Moss. So last year whenever I caught a pass, I’d always come back to the huddle and say, ’Randy Moss!’"
Lacy already is among the more beloved teammates in the Packers' locker room, and his even-keeled personality is a big reason why.
"I call him Easy Eddie because he always seems to be having a good time — never too high, never too low," Packers guard T.J. Lang said. "He's always got a smile on his face. He's never down, man.
"But whatever he does, he's never really satisfied. He works hard, and when you see him gain 12 yards on a play, he'll come back to the huddle cursing himself and saying he thinks he could have gotten 15 or 20. I think that's the kind of teammate we all love having.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson, who signed a multi-year contract extension on Wednesday, had Lacy fall in his lap in Round 2 of the 2013 draft, and he couldn't be happier with what he's seen from both the player and the person the past year and a half.
"I think he's probably more confident and relaxed as a player [in Year 2], and he's got his own style. Quite frankly, I admire him for it," Thompson said. "A lot of people are all nervous and fidgety and concerned about what someone thinks. He kind of goes through life having a good time and with a big smile on his face.
"He's also a really good football player, and that helps."
Lacy said he learned his patience and developed his even-keeled style from growing up not having everything he wanted. When he was 15 years old, his family was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in Gretna, La., located just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans. He also had to wait his turn in college football behind two great backs at Alabama, eventual first-round picks Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, before getting his shot at the lead option.
Clinton-Dix can't believe the difference between now and then.
"He's a whole different animal now," Clinton-Dix said. "It's amazing what he could do this year."
Now, Lacy has a chance to be the best of the three in the NFL — and put some serious distance between himself and them — if he can build off his strong rookie campaign and expand his game. Mind you, this is still Aaron Rodgers' show, and Lacy isn't suddnely going to turn into Darren Sproles out there. The Packers know where Lacy's strength lies.
"We’re not going to line up and feature Eddie in the passing game," McCarthy said. "He still needs to stand back there behind the quarterback, getting the ball and running with his shoulders square."
Added Lang, "He rarely gets tackled by one guy. You love seeing a player just doing damage out there to the defense."
For Lacy, his role and his place on the Packers are a perfect match for the way he's always seen himself.
"I am a team player, and even if I was the best player on my sports team growing up I never tried to act like I was," he said. "I wanted to be cool about it and not make it seem like I was way up here and everyone else was down here."
And — sorry, fantasy footballers — you can forget about him trying to set some kind of statistical goal for this season.
“I am not a numbers guy. I don’t set those goals," he said. "The way my mind is, if I set a goal to, I don’t know, rush for 1,300 rushing yards, then I would have to figure out exactly how many yards I’d need per game, how many carries you get and all that.
“If the numbers are not where you want them to be, then you start to do too much, and whenever you do too much that’s when you start to make mistakes and press too much. I just want to be free and easy."
That style has suited him to this point.
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