In reality, however, how much will it matter?
"What is a starter?" is one of coach Mike McCarthy's favorite phrases.
His point is well-taken. Does it really matter who wins the battle between Grant and Starks if they wind up having something approximating a 50-50 split of the backfield carries, with McCarthy riding one hot hand one week and the other the next?
Still, it's a battle that will be dripping with intrigue because the player who starts will be the player who gets first dibs at earning 60 percent or 70 percent of the carries. In McCarthy's five years as coach, there's really never been anything resembling a timeshare in the backfield. In 2006, Ahman Green had 266 carries while Vernand Morency had 91. In 2007, Grant had 188 carries while playing essentially half the year yet easily outdistanced Brandon Jackson's 75. In 2008, Grant had 312 carries while Jackson had a meager 45. In 2009, Grant had 282 carries while past-his-prime Green had 41 — Aaron Rodgers, in fact, was the second-leading carrier with 58.
Even last season, when Jackson never consistently produced with just 3.7 yards per carry, the final stats were one-sided. Jackson led the way with 190 carries while John Kuhn was a distant second with 84. Of course, it was a total reversal during the playoffs, when McCarthy and the coaching staff began to trust Starks and was given 81 carries compared to six apiece by Jackson and Kuhn.
Assuming Grant is healthy after needing season-ending ankle surgery and Starks is ready for the full-time grind after being a playoff hero, the Packers potentially have two starting-caliber backs. It's never a bad thing to have two hungry players battle every day on the practice field. Another possibility is Starks wins the job with a strong training camp and the Packers part ways with Grant, whose cap number is $5.65 million.
"When we hit the ground running, he'll be ready to go," running backs coach Jerry Fontenot said of Grant. "James Starks, he did a phenomenal job last year as a rookie. To come in in the playoffs and perform the way he did, I think he's shown us that he's going to have the capability of competing. In my career, competition has always been a good thing. It raises the level of your game and it definitely puts a little hitch in your giddy-up. I fully anticipate with the addition of Alex Green and hopefully the return of Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn, that we'll have a star-studded backfield. All of those guys are very capable and can all contribute. I'm excited as (heck)."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.