GREEN BAY—No matter which of their top three running backs they turn to at any given point in 2014, the Packers won’t have to worry about the stage being too big for them.
Aside from the obvious talent, a valuable characteristic of the offensive backfield trio of
Lacy concluded a strong final month of his rookie season last year as the bell cow in the Wild Card game against San Francisco, bulldozing his way to 81 yards on 21 carries. Starks, of course, burst on the scene in the 2010 playoffs, posting a Packers rookie postseason record 123 yards at Philadelphia and carrying the ground game through the Super Bowl. Harris gave the Green Bay rushing attack down the stretch in 2012, with 100 yards and two touchdowns in a pair of postseason contests.
It’s rare to have that kind of proven depth under the brightest of lights at such a singular position, and while the playoffs aren’t on anyone’s mind now, the trio’s track record will matter soon enough – whether it’s the Thursday night kickoff opener in Seattle, a Sunday night showdown in New Orleans or a late November matchup with New England, among the many marquee games on the Packers’ 2014 schedule.
“I think you have three good running backs that are proven guys,” running backs coach Sam Gash said. “You take that and use it when you can. All those guys you feel pretty comfortable with in any situation.”
Harris locked down his spot as the third guy, if not closed the gap on Starks, with an impressive preseason performance last week vs. Oakland. A 17-yard run highlighted a 12-carry, 56-yard outing, and a 31-yard gain on a screen pass provided the bulk of his 42 yards receiving.
After the game, Lacy said Harris looked like his “old self,” shaking off any doubts that might have crept in following a fumble the previous week in St. Louis. He wasn’t flawless, hurting the offense deep in its own territory with a pair of false starts, which only give him a new focus moving forward.
“Those guys as a group do a good job challenging each other and not wanting to, in a sense, look bad on camera,” Gash said. “You have to do it right, and I thought DuJuan did a good job coming back last week, being productive with the ball, and giving it to the ref every time, making sure he gets up with the ball.
“He’s a talented guy still finding his way. He just has to clean up the little things.”
The Packers’ depth at running back should only help the no-huddle offense, which will benefit from having a fresh set of legs available at any moment. That has shown up thus far in the preseason.
In the two games in which the entire No. 1 offense has played, the Packers have scored 32 points in eight series. Two drives with Lacy, one in each game, produced touchdowns. One with Harris (featuring his 31-yard reception) and one with both Starks and Harris ended with TDs as well, with Starks adding a powerful two-point conversion run.
The only lull came in the first quarter against Oakland, when a pair of three-and-out series resulted partly from a dropped pass and a sack. A holding penalty wiped out a fourth-and-short conversion by Starks on another scoreless drive.
“You’re not going to be outstanding all the time,” Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said of the first unit. “We understand that. But that’s what we’re striving for. Overall, they’re performing very well.”
Make no mistake, Lacy will do the lion’s share of the work in the backfield, but at the breakneck pace with which the Packers want to play, inserting Starks for a series here or there will help Lacy in the fourth quarter, and having Harris ready for certain packages or in case of injury will keep that no-huddle rolling, too.
“The more you do something, hopefully, the better you get at it,” Clements said. “We think we’re getting pretty good at it. At times over the last several years, we’ve utilized it to great effect, and hopefully we can do that a lot this season.”