As a sixth-round pick last year, Starks mostly saw his rookie season derailed by injuries. But he had a starring role in the playoffs, and he intends to use that as a jumping-off point for this season and beyond.
"I wanted to come to camp and be ready for everything, unlike last year," Starks said. "I wanted to come in a better player and not have to worry about injuries or my hamstrings and stuff that I was having problems with. I just focused on stuff like that. After training, I got extra big."
After rushing for 101 yards on 29 attempts in three games on the active roster, Starks burst onto the national scene with a 123-yard day against Philadelphia in the playoffs. In four postseason games, he rushed 81 times for a playoff-high 315 yards, including 4.7 yards per attempt against Pittsburgh's vaunted defense in the Super Bowl.
Still, his injury problems haunted him. He spent the first nine games of the season on the physically unable to perform list and was deactivated for his first two games on the 53-man roster after injuring his hamstring in the conditioning test. He played in two games and was inactive again for two games because of the hamstring before getting five carries in the regular-season finale against Chicago.
Starks arrived in camp 8 pounds heavier than last season's 217, thanks to a strict training regimen at Absolute Performance in suburban Buffalo and a gluten-free diet. Gone were late-night snacks of pepper-jack cheese and pepperoni.
"I'm not eating many carbs," Starks said. "I eat gluten-free bread, staying off of dairy products. It wasn't working for my body so I went to see a specialist. I was wondering what is the problem with my hamstrings. Sometimes, it's just because you're not feeding yourself the right foods. I was feasting off of carbs, thinking it was good, but my body didn't react to it the right way. As soon as I got on the diet, I started picking up weight, started feeling a lot stronger."
The added strength is evident, and he says he's faster even with the extra weight.
"I'm just running, trying to get better," Starks said with a smile when asked about his one-on-one encounter with Bratton.
Starks swears he's not stressing on his battle with Ryan Grant, who looks healthy and strong after missing most of last season with an ankle injury. He's worked hard enough to be the featured running back, but if Grant wins the job and is given the bulk of the carries, Starks said it would just make him hungrier to work harder at practice.
"I'm not really worried about any of that," Starks said. "I'm going to go out there and play. I'm sure the coaches will put me in a great situation where I can perform. If I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, everything will work out.
On the field, Starks says he left some "huge" runs on the field last year because he didn't press his aiming point correctly or was too antsy to cut back rather than setting up the linebackers and then changing directions at the last moment. He also said he needs to improve in pass protection, which would get him extra snaps. He's seen the evidence on the film and is putting his corrections to work on the practice field.
"I feel pretty good," he said. "Things happen for a reason but I've learned from those things: how to practice, how to become a better player, knowing when to do things and when not to do things. Through all the mistakes that I did have and all the injuries I did obtain, I learned from each one. It made me a better player.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.