With the San Fransisco 49ers headed into Lambeau Field today coming off of a short week after blowing out the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football. The Packers have the perfect opportunity to give running back James Starks his first NFL carry.
In fact, in Starks' case his first NFL carry will be his first carry at any level since injuring his shoulder in college at Buffalo during his 2008 season, which caused him to miss his entire senior season.
The stars have aligned further for Starks' debut against the 49ers at Lambeau field today because backup halfback Dimitri Nance suffered a concussion during the Atlanta game which means his availability against San Fransisco will be in question. Although he was able to return to practice on Thursday, so perhaps Starks will have to keep on waiting for his chance.
However, something needs to be done about the running game as the Packers make their push to secure a playoff berth. Over his past three games Brandon Jackson has rushed 37 times for 96 yards an average of just 2.5 yards a carry, that simply won't get it done even if the Packers just want to keep teams honest with the threat of a rushing attack.
If they're looking to seal victories as the weather gets worse with long drives that keep the clock ticking, they'll have to do it with short passes because 2.5 yards a carry isn't going to get them a first down.
Starks is the kind of big back who could excel as the whether turns bad over the final five games of the season. He is 6'2", 218 pounds and has more wiggle to him than any other back on the Packers roster. He ran a 4.50 second 40 coming out of Buffalo, where he became the school's all-time leading rusher despite missing his senior season.
He is an athletic player, posting a vertical jump of 36 inches, a 20 yard shuttle time of 4.23 seconds, a broad jump of 9'11", and a three cone drill time of just 6.89 seconds, showing well above average agility for a player his size.
Assuming he knows all the calls in blitz pickup ensuring he is not a liability in the passing game, the coaches should give Starks his shot sooner rather than later. If he can run tougher inside and with better pad level than he did in college, the Packers could have a back similar to Brandon Jacobs of the New York Giants.
Starks is almost a sure bet to get at least a couple of carries against the 49ers if Nance is held out of the game. The Packers coaches could choose to use John Kuhn as the backup at running back again, although he has only one touch on offense over the last two games and that was a nine-yard reception against the Falcons.
The Packers would be wise to give Starks his shot today, though it looks like he will once again be among the inactives, with Nance likely to return from the concussion he suffered against the Falcons. A fresh running back is very valuable commodity at the end of the season when defensive players are beaten up from the grind of a long season.
Expect the Packers to find that out the hard way today as they face Brian Westbrook who got his only real action of the season last week after Frank Gore went down with a broken hip early in the game against the Cardinals. He ended up rushing for 136 yards on 23 carries, finding the end zone once, while seeming to have more spring in his legs than the defenders tasked with stopping him.