Attitude, Work Ethic Drive Starks

While one running back was tearing it up, the other was going in the wrong direction. James Starks' poor performance in Chicago last Sunday is being used as a learning tool in his preparation for the Broncos. With Ryan Grant injured, Starks figures to carry the load.

As numbers go, it was the worst game of James Starks' young NFL career.

11 carries, 5 yards.

One fumble.

One dysfunctional screen pass attempt.

None of that matters now, however, to Starks as has put his performance against the Bears behind him.

"This whole week I've been feeling good and I've moved on to a new game," the Green Bay Packers' second-year running back said. "Hopefully this game, everything will work out. I always work hard in practice, so hopefully it pays off.

"Everybody makes some mistakes. Even the great running backs have games like that. You've got to bounce back, make sure you get your mind right and move on. That's what I've done."

With Ryan Grant likely out for this Sunday's game against the Broncos because of a bruised kidney, Starks could carry more of the load in the running game for the Packers. Or he could continue to split carries — as he has done with Grant over the first three games — with rookie Alex Green, who is prepping in practice, taking repetitions for the sidelined Grant.

Either way, the Packers' running game thus far has been more of an effective complement to their prolific passing game. It had been relatively error-free until last Sunday.

While Grant was putting together his best game of the season before getting injured, it was difficult not to discount the consistent struggles of Starks — the Packers' playoff star in the backfield a season ago — even in a 27-17 victory over an NFC North rival.

For the first time this season, Starks looked far less decisive on his runs — in fact, eight of his 11 carries when for 1 yard or less — while Grant (15 carries, 92 yards) was tearing up an otherwise-solid Bears front seven. But before putting all the blame on Starks, however, running backs coach Jerry Fontenot had this explanation for the poor outing.

"It's the complete game. It's the blocking unit. It's us running the ball and finding the holes. There was mutual responsibility and the defense made some good calls," said Fontenot. "It just so happened on the plays that he got to carry the ball, on a couple of them he made a bad decision and obviously on the one run where he fumbled the ball, that was a critical mistake — that was absolutely avoidable just with fundamentals — but other than that, it was just the luck of the draw. It just seemed like on the plays that he carried the ball, we didn't have our best overall performance in blocking and running."

The fumble stuck in the minds of Fontenot and Starks more than anything. The Packers were comfortably ahead 27-10 early in the fourth quarter when Starks lost a fumble for the first time in his career in 152 touches (including the playoffs). Linebacker Lance Briggs' shot in to get Starks for a 5-yard loss just after the handoff.

"What I thought was that I felt as soon as he felt Briggs' presence, he got the ball in the wrong hand instead of just getting both hands on it and securing it," said Fontenot of the play. "He tried to make something happen. He tried to get around him without securing the ball. Our primary focus is once that kind of situation develops, it's all about ball security. Take our medicine and come back and play the next play."

Starks got just one more carry the rest of the game compared to four for Grant, but by several accounts, the Packers have not lost any faith in him. Remember, he was the player who missed all of his last season in college at Buffalo and most of his rookie season in the NFL in 2010 due to injury, yet the Packers made him their featured back down the stretch on the way to a Super Bowl title. And after two solid outings this season (21 carries, 142 yards for a 6.8 yards per carry), Fontenot does not expect a repeat of the third.

"He's very hard on himself. Very critical of himself. It's not like I have to jump up and down and storm up and down on the sidelines to make any points," said Fontenot. "He's a competitor and he wants to do a good job and he demands a lot from himself. So, from that aspect of it, we're very fortunate to have a guy that wants to do the right thing. I'm hard on him, but with respect to that as well, I don't want him going into the tank at any point during the game."

Perhaps more than anything, Starks' positive attitude on Thursday was evident. Though he admitted he could have "pressed his aiming points a little better," broken a couple more tackles and influenced the linebackers better than he did against the Bears, he clearly chose to look forward not backward. In a span of eight questions with reporters, he ended at least three of them with essentially the same response.

"The (Bears) game is behind me," he said. "I think you learn from those mistakes and get better from them. That's what I'm going to do."

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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