Addition of Starks expands Packers’ ground game : Packers Insider

Addition of Starks expands Packers’ ground game

December 8, 2010 by  
Filed under News

From Gary D’Amato, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — Though James Starks made a good first impression in his NFL debut Sunday, 18 carries weren’t enough to gauge exactly how good he is or will become for the Green Bay Packers.

Starks rushed for 73 yards against a team, the San Francisco 49ers, that had no film on him.

On the other hand, when he was on the field the 49ers pretty much knew he was going to get the ball, especially during a clock-eating, 17-play drive late in the game, and he still averaged 4.1 yards per carry.

He didn’t fumble, was decisive with his reads, mostly got what he should have gotten and had one nice 16-yard run in which he broke two tackles.

"He's an every-down back," RB Coach Edgar Bennett said. "He does have that type of talent where he can stay on the field in every situation."

“Well, I’m not ready to put James’ plaque up here,” said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. “But he’s off to a good start.”

What Starks does give the Packers is another option at running back. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound rookie, who was activated Nov. 9 from the physically unable to perform list, joins Brandon Jackson, Dimitri Nance and John Kuhn in a suddenly crowded backfield.

It will be interesting to see how coach Mike McCarthy uses them over the final four weeks of the regular season. Will Starks supplant Jackson, who leads the team with 527 rushing yards, as the No. 1 back? How will Kuhn and Nance be used?

“For the twelve-hundredth time, there really are no depth charts,” McCarthy said Monday. “Brandon Jackson has done an excellent job and will continue to do so. . . . I’d really like to get into more of a rotation now that I know I have three halfbacks.”

Four, counting Kuhn, who plays a hybrid halfback / fullback role and gets most of his carries in short-yardage situations.

Nance, who suffered a concussion on his only carry against Atlanta, was inactive Sunday.

“Nance, we don’t know a lot about yet still,” Philbin said. “He hasn’t had the same kind of shots. James had 18 carries so that’s a good first look. Obviously, we don’t know everything about him, either.”

It’s not as if the Packers have a four-headed monster. Jackson, Kuhn, Nance and Starks have combined for 886 yards, which would rank 11th among individual running backs in the NFL.

But Starks showed how even a modest running game can help open up the passing game for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. McCarthy talks a lot about balance, and the Packers had it in a 410-yard performance Sunday.

“He did a nice job,” Philbin said. “I thought, No. 1, he protected the ball very well. Secondly, he ran pretty decisively and pretty hard. Obviously, his reads aren’t perfect yet, but for the most part we felt like he got the yards that were there. And he broke a couple tackles.”

Starks is a tall back with long legs and tends to run upright. Running backs coach Edgar Bennett has to constantly remind him about his pad level but said Starks was making good progress.

“For the most part I thought he ran with leverage,” Bennett said. “He’s a big guy and he always falls forward. In the situations where he ended up getting knocked backwards, it was because his pad level was too high.”

Said Philbin, “His height is not necessarily a disadvantage for him. There’s a couple times when he did a nice job lowering his pads and keeping them down, because the pad level helps protect the football. Obviously, he’s not there yet. He still does run a little bit high.”

Starks ran mostly out of two- and three-back sets, but Bennett said he could play in any of the Packers’ formations. McCarthy said Starks had receiving skills and could catch the ball coming out of the backfield.

“He’s an every-down back,” Bennett said. “He does have that type of talent where he can stay on the field in every situation.”

At the very least, Starks gives opposing defenses something else to think about. Bennett said Starks, Jackson, Nance and Kuhn all “bring something unique to the table.”

Said McCarthy, “I don’t really want to get into specifics of how we’re going to use each one. That’s really what the games are for and for our opponents to plan against.”

Jackson wound up with just four carries against San Francisco, but he did catch four passes for 63 yards, including a nicely executed 37-yard screen.

Philbin said he was not worried about Jackson’s attitude if the running back got fewer chances to carry the ball because of Starks’ emergence.

“He’s a high-character guy,” Philbin said. “He’s done everything we’ve ever asked him to do. He’s never been a guy that I know that has complained an awful lot. It wasn’t like he was shut out of the game plan, or ‘Brandon Jackson, I don’t want you touching the football in this game plan.’ That certainly wasn’t the case at all.”

Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Starks get the bulk of the carries again against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

“The kid, he never gave the impression that it was too big,” Bennett said. “He was poised. In the pregame warm-up, you saw it in his eyes: You knew this kid was ready to play.”

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