1-11-04, 10:50 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
A year ago as a Bengal, fullback Nicolas Luchey knocked the New Orleans Saints out of the playoffs with his steam-roll runs. Now as a Packer, Luchey is looking to sand-blast the favored Eagles out of the postseason with his blocking in Sunday's NFC semifinal game in Philadelphia.
It's a feeling he hopes his former teammates get to savor next season. He was rooting for them to make it on the last Sunday of the regular season even as the Packers were occupied with hoping Arizona would knock off Minnesota. When he heard the Lambeau Field crowd chant, "Minnesota lost," Luchey got chills and it wasn't from the weather.
"When we walked off the field wearing the division champion hats, it was one of the greatest feelings I've had," Luchey said from Green Bay after a recent practice. "It's what I've been looking for. Those guys are going to get there. You can see they're playing with so much more confidence. I was kind of hoping we'd get there together."
The 270-pound Luchey figures to be more of a factor Sunday than he was the last time the Packers and Eagles met. Two months ago, Green Bay rolled up 241 rushing yards on a Monday night the visiting Eagles still managed to pull out a resourceful 17-14 victory. The Pack knows it has to run the ball just as effectively in Philly to ward off the Eagles' famed blitz and with Luchey coming off one of his busiest games this season last week in the Wild Card game against Seattle, he knows he'll be in the middle of it.
"You know they're coming on the blitz. That's their game and you have to keep them away from your quarterback," Luchey said. "We know we have to run the ball on them and we think we can because we got more than 200 yards rushing on them the last time. It was the (three) turnovers that killed us."
Luchey figures he took between 25 to 30 snaps in Green Bay's 33-27 overtime victory over Seattle and the one everyone saw was on running back Ahman Green's one-
yard touchdown run with 2:44 left that gave Green Bay a short-lived 27-20 lead. Luchey erased Seahawks safety Reggie Tongue on a kick-out block, much like he did eight minutes before when Green Bay tied the game at 20 on another one-yard run.
The last one came out of a full-house backfield, with Luchey teamed with fellow fullback William Henderson. It's an alignment they may use fairly frequently in an effort to keep the Eagles and their 38 sacks out of pass-rush situations, but Luchey doesn't see the two of them staying together next year.
"I love Will. We've become close. But I just think they want one of us to be the guy and that they aren't going to split it up like they have," Luchey said. "I think that's probably the best thing. We've both been getting our plays and our time, but I don't think they're going to keep us together."
Word out of Green Bay is that once Luchey picked up the new offense, the coaches began to play him more, and they have been impressed. Henderson is a special teams favorite of head coach Mike Sherman, but if they do decide to keep only one, it would more than likely be the 26-year-Luchey rather than the 32-year-old Henderson.
Although Luchey buried the Saints on 12 fourth-quarter carries in last-year's next-to-last game of the season for his only carries
since – of all places _ Philly in 2000, he calls his role in Green Bay "the exact same," as his blocking responsibilities in Cincinnati. With Green, the NFC rushing leader, backed up by a pair of bruisers in Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher and Luchey hampered by a broken thumb for part of the season, there has been no desire or need to give Luchey the ball. He has carried once for three yards.
"The passing game is totally different than what we had in Cincinnati, but the running plays are almost the same," Luchey said. "Corey (Dillon) and Ahman aren't all that different. Corey relies on his power probably more, but he's still fast. Ahman probably relies more on his speed, but he's still got a lot of power. He showed that when he broke that tackle last week on fourth-and-one (just before he tied the game). Corey might set up his blocks more, and Ahman gets in and out of the hole, but they're pretty much the same. It wasn't really much different for me."
Luchey is enjoying a wave that began when quarterback Brett Favre led a huge win over the Raiders Monday night last month virtually hours after his father's sudden death.
"That was the type of thing where it really didn't matter who it was, we were helping out one of our brothers," Luchey said. "One of our family members was hurting and was down and so were we, and we had to come together. We really bonded as a team.
"When I first got here, I thought (Favre) was going to be one of these guys who was always talking," Luchey said. "But he really doesn't talk all that much. He leads with confidence. He might crack a joke in the huddle or something like that, but he pretty much leads by his presence."
Luchey says he has no hard feelings about how little time he got in Cincinnati, or about how he left last year in free agency. The Bengals wanted him back as their lead fullback once Lorenzo Neal went to San Diego, and they gave him an offer similar to what he ended up signing in Green Bay, although the Packers were a little less heavy on the incentives.
Still, it pretty much came down to Luchey's call, and he hadn't been used all that much in Cincinnati. He admitted it was ironic that he also ended up sharing snaps in Green Bay, where some thought Luchey would replace Henderson for salary cap reasons.
"I understand that. When a guy like Zo is around, the snaps are going to be split," Luchey said. "I probably could have gone to a lot of places and been the guy, but that's just the way things work out. And it worked out great because we're in the playoffs. I still know some of the coaches (in Cincinnati), and I talk to some of the guys still. Guys like Adrian Ross, Corey, T.J. Houshmandzadeh every once in a while. I'm happy for those guys."
The Bengals are also happy with their fullback situation. Luchey's departure dictated they take Jeremi Johnson out of Western Kentucky in the fourth round last April, and they were pleased with how he responded. They weren't the only ones who were reminded of Luchey's big-man athleticism when they scouted the 270-pound Johnson.
"I saw him on a couple of cutups (on tape) because we played against some of the teams they played," Luchey said. "I've got to say he did remind me of myself. I think he's going to be a good player. He's good now. He just has to work on some technique things, and he'll be fine. I'm sure JA (running backs coach Jim Anderson) is going to coach him through that."
And Luchey is sincere in his hopes that Johnson will one day feel what he is feeling now.
"To be two games away from the Super Bowl," Luchey said, "is something special. You can't describe the feeling."