GREEN BAY—The process of keeping running back Eddie Lacy fresh for 16 games, and for presumably a long Packers career, is underway.
Lacy already sat out last week's preseason opener, and Mike McCarthy on Tuesday made it sound as though Lacy's preseason carries will be kept to a minimum on Saturday in St. Louis, as well as through the rest of this month.
Lacy has taken a large amount of reps in practice – far more than in last year's training camp – and McCarthy appears to be focusing on that work to get Lacy and the offensive line in tune with one another, while sparing Lacy too many full-contact hits and tackles that would come against a preseason opponent.
Put another way, the Packers are saving the wear and tear on Lacy's body for when it counts.
"Eddie's gotten a lot of work," McCarthy said. "His reps are up this year from last year, and you have to pay attention to that.
"It is not my goal for his workload to be very high in preseason games."
It was plenty high in the 2013 regular season, and there's good reason to believe that won't change much, even as sharp as James Starks has looked thus far. Including the playoff game, Lacy carried the ball 305 times as a rookie, with 20 or more carries in 11 of 14 games following an early-season concussion.
That was quite a change from his college days at Alabama, where he had 355 carries over three seasons. In 2012, his one year as the Crimson Tide's primary back, Lacy had 204 carries, or just two-thirds of his workload as an NFL rookie, with just a pair of 20-carry games – in his final two 'Bama contests, the SEC and BCS title games.
"There definitely is a difference," Lacy said of the workload early in his pro career. "If anything, not having that many carries in a game helped me out to being able to handle it now."
That should bode well for his longevity as well. There's been no indication the Packers will hold Lacy out entirely from the preseason games, as the Minnesota Vikings often do with Adrian Peterson, but he has no objection to a light preseason if that's what unfolds.
"It's different, maybe, especially as a year two guy, but the coaches know what they have to do," Lacy said. "They always make sure their players are in the best position. As long as you trust and believe the process the coaches are going to put you through, everything should work out.
"I don't look at it as though I need 'X' amount of snaps to be in sync with the team."
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers should join Lacy in getting his first preseason snaps in St. Louis, but he's not expecting a ton of playing time this week, either. As has usually been the case, Rodgers' primary tune-up will come in preseason game No. 3, vs. Oakland on Aug. 22 at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers wants to get some game reps with new center JC Tretter, but that doesn't require a major alteration to previous preseason philosophies.
"This is the time of year you're trying to get to be playing the right way, and get in, get out," he said. "I like to stay healthy. That's kind of the goal there. Last year we didn't score a touchdown (in preseason), so my No. 2 goal is to score a touchdown."
Another goal for the Packers this preseason is to decide who their kickoff and punt returners will be.
No. 3 running back DuJuan Harris appears to be the leader for the kickoff-return job. He ran the opening kickoff in Tennessee back 40 yards, and McCarthy commented that he likes how Harris' body type (5-8, 203) and running style fit Green Bay's return scheme.
On punt return, the experiment with rookie receiver Davante Adams didn't go very well in the Tennessee rain, and the majority of punt returns in practice this week have been handled by veterans Micah Hyde, Randall Cobb and Tramon Williams.
McCarthy explained he's not averse to using an offensive or defensive regular to return punts if that's what's called for.
"It's dangerous to get into limitations and trying to be too cautious," he said. "When you're cautious and you worry, negative things happen. We're going to put our best players out there. We need to be better on special teams, and a good returner makes any return unit better."
Hyde had a 93-yard TD return as a rookie and averaged a solid 12.3 yards on 24 punt returns last year, good for fifth in the league. He's expected to have a larger role on defense this year, playing both safety and slot corner, but he has no problem adding return duty on top of that if needed.
"I think that it's been clear since day one, if I can stay on the field throughout the whole game every snap, I'll do it," Hyde said. "Whatever the coaches ask me, I'll try to do it."
The same goes for Cobb, who was a dynamic return man his first two years in the league, with three TD returns (two punts, one kickoff) over the 2011-12 seasons.
"No doubt. That's a part of getting us to a Super Bowl," Cobb said. "At the end of the day, that's what it's all about, is how can we win a Super Bowl. If it takes starters to do that on special teams, we're going to put starters in.
"If that means I have to be a returner at some point, I'm going to return the ball. I came back in the playoffs (last year) and returned some kickoffs. That's just part of it. It comes with the job title."