Injuries have been the story for the 2010 Green Bay Packers on both sides of the ball. A number of starters have been lost for the entire 2010 season on both offense and defense.
That list includes starters Jermicheal Finley, Nick Barnett and Morgan Burnett, along with linebackers Brady popping and Brad Jones. Justin Harrell was also lost (again) for the season, and may soon find himself out of Green Bay.
Players have stepped up despite injuries; Desmond Bishop has performed well in Barnett’s place as a starter, and undrafted rookie Frank Zombo has stepped up to the plate and is likely to claim Brad Jones’ starting outside linebacker position in his absence.
But, there is one prime area of concern: the running game, which lost Ryan Grant to season-ending surgery in Week 1. The running back positions are currently held down by Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn, who is primarily a full back.
The running game has shown flashes of consistency at times with Jackson, but Kuhn is not a full-time answer as a running game, and must go back to his natural position as a fullback. Dmitri Nance was signed, but has also been injured as he began to show signs of progress. The Packers need a back, but who can they turn to?
Enter rookie running back James Starks.
The 2010 sixth-round draft pick out of Buffalo has been on the PUP list since OTAs with a hamstring injury, and is currently eligible to practice and be activated to the active roster.
With the Packers thin at running back, Starks is likely to be activated from the PUP list once he becomes more acclimated to the playbook and the speed of football in general, having not played since 2008, having been sidelined all his senior season with a shoulder injury.
The Packers are high on Starks’ ability he showed during his career at Buffalo; his ability to catch out of the backfield with his 6'1", 220 pound frame and one-cut style fits well with the Packers' zone blocking scheme. But, how much will he really bring?
Starks has great upside as a running back; the coaches were high on him early on in OTAs. But, he hasn’t seen the field in two years, and he has had durability concerns with his shoulder and now his hamstring. How quickly he gets up to speed before time runs out for him to be activated to the active roster will be crucial in developing the running game.
Exactly what he could do in a game is uncertain, as McCarthy has refused to run the ball very much, despite the gradual success Jackson has seen with more carries. Having two legitimate running backs, rather than a fullback gone running back, may sway McCarthy’s way of play calling.
Starks’ window of opportunity is opening each day; Nance is listed as questionable against the Jets, and as Starks practices each day, he learns the offense and draws closer to seeing the field. There have been no indications of further injury, a good sign for Starks’ and he Packers.
One thing’s for sure: the Packers won’t know what they have until they activate him and get him into live game action. Starks needs his opportunity to show he can do what the Packers drafted him for. If Starks can get his shot, it could prove beneficial for the offense, especially the running back corps.