Inside Champs: Running Backs

We continue our positional look at the Packers' offseason roster with the halfbacks and fullbacks. One of the hottest battles of training camp will involve standout veteran Ryan Grant and promising James Starks.

Running backs

Starter: Ryan Grant (injured reserve). Backups: James Starks, Brandon Jackson (unrestricted free agent), Dimitri Nance.

Comment: Grant will be 100 percent long before the start of training camp. Even as a two-time 1,200-yard rusher, Grant's impact was taken for granted until he suffered a season-ending injury during the second quarter of the opener. For most of the season, the Packers' running game was unreliable, at best, and terrible, at worst. Because of it, the offense as a whole often ran hot and cold.

Starks came to the rescue in the nick of time. A forgotten man after missing most of the offseason work, all of training camp, all of the preseason and the first two-thirds of the season with hamstring issues, Starks burst onto the scene with a 123-yard performance in the playoff win at Philadelphia. With a hard-charging 11 carries for 52 yards against Pittsburgh's impenetrable run defense in the Super Bowl, Starks has shown he's a legit NFL starter.

So, the hottest training camp battle will pit Grant vs. Starks. They're similar in that they're big men who don't shy away from contact. They never fumble (Grant didn't cough it up on a running play for all of 2009; Starks didn't have a fumble in 2010). They have workhorse qualities. Starks has better hands in the passing game; neither excel in pass protection. Grant obviously is more expensive: $3.5 million in base salary plus a $1.75 million roster bonus while Starks will be playing for the league-minimum $405,000.

What's interesting: The other big question is the fate of Jackson, who posted career highs in rushing yards (703) and receptions (45). He could look for more of an opportunity as a ball-carrier and depart in free agency. The Packers certainly want to bring him back, though. There are a few reasons why Aaron Rodgers never is hit cleanly by a blitzer. Jackson's mental and physical prowess in pass protection top the list. He's also a threat as a checkdown receiver in the passing game and probably had more big plays on screens this season than he did in his first three seasons combined.

Nance, signed off the Falcons' practice squad after Grant went down, might be needed if Jackson departs.


Starter: John Kuhn (unrestricted free agent). Backups: Korey Hall (unrestricted free agent), Quinn Johnson.

Comment: The Packers have remarkable diversity in this group. Kuhn personifies that word, moving from the anonymity of playing fullback to earning folk-hero status as a powerful and remarkably nimble ball-carrier to help fill the void left by Ryan Grant. He even played a lot on third down during the stretch run because of his versatility. Johnson is a punishing blocker who was vastly improved after a dismal rookie season but still has problems hitting a moving target. Hall's value is on special teams, where he led the team with 15 tackles. With a pass-first game plan in the Super Bowl, he was on the 45-man active roster instead of Johnson, who had been active in each of the previous 11 games.

What's interesting: Mike McCarthy loves fullbacks, lining up with all three in the backfield at times, with Kuhn carrying the mail behind Johnson and Kuhn. In a league in which some teams don't keep a fullback on the roster, it would be surprising if all three aren't back in 2011.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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