Starks Catches Some Attention

The rookie sixth-round running back was called a player to watch by Aaron Rodgers. Starks has the running style to fit the Packers' zone scheme and the pass-catching ability to give the offense an added dimension.

It didn't take James Starks too long to open the eyes of the most important player in the Green Bay Packers' locker room.

That would be Aaron Rodgers, who showed a keen eye for scouting at this time last year by anointing Jermichael Finley as the player to watch. This year, Rodgers selected Starks and guard Josh Sitton.

"Man, that's a compliment and an honor," Starks said. "I just want to live up to everybody's expectations. I don't want to let anybody down. I'm just going to do what I can do. I'm not going to try to do too much. Play within what the coaches want me to do, and hopefully it works out for me."

Starks, the Packers' sixth-round pick, will be one of the most intriguing players on the roster when training camp begins on July 31. An ultraproductive player at off-the-beaten path Buffalo of the underrated Mid-American Conference, Starks rushed for 3,140 yards and 34 touchdowns and caught 127 passes with three more scores in three seasons. He lost his senior season due to a shoulder injury that wouldn't heal in time for the season and required surgery.

Starks has the potential to add an extra dimension to an offense that has a workhorse ball-carrier in Ryan Grant and a third-down pass protector in Brandon Jackson but lacks an above-average pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Starks caught 52 passes in 2008. All of the Packers' halfbacks combined caught 51 last season.

"He's a natural receiver catching the football," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. "He can extend for the football and adjust to the football. Obviously, there's a time and a place for doing everything as far as when you use your body to catch the football vs. extending and plucking the football. He has soft hands. He has the tools to be a very good receiver out of the backfield."

At an unusually tall 6-foot-2, keeping his pads low so he delivers punishment rather than takes it will be a training camp focus for Starks and Bennett. Starks' injury history is troublesome and why the big, athletic runner fell into the sixth round. Along with the shoulder, Starks missed time in his career with a broken hand, bruised hip and turf toe. He also missed the first few weeks of organized team activities with a strained hamstring.

However, his skill-set is intriguing. With the caveat that the offseason practices are conducted without pads, Starks showed that cut-and-explode quickness that is the hallmark of the great zone blocking scheme running backs. It's that cut-and-go explosiveness that has made Grant a two-time 1,200-yard rusher. Perhaps, the addition of Starks will cut down on the wear and tear for Grant, who got 75 percent of the running backs' rushing attempts last season.

"Talented, raw. You can definitely see he's got ability," Grant said during OTAs. "Big frame. He has a great frame. I like big backs, I like to see a big back that can run the ball and move. He's an athlete. He's got good hands. He's natural. Raw, just because he needs to fine-tune some things, but he can definitely contribute."

To contribute, Starks will need more than just that raw talent. He'll need to earn the trust of Bennett and coach Mike McCarthy. What makes Grant so good is that he never fumbles — Starks coughed it up 19 times in three seasons at Buffalo. What makes Jackson so valuable is that he sees and picks up blitzers at such a high level.

If Starks can't hold onto the ball, can't stay healthy or can't keep Rodgers on his feet, than those running and pass-catching skills won't see the light of day. Not with holdover Kregg Lumpkin and undrafted rookie Quinn Porter fighting for that roster spot.

"Yes. Yes I am," Starks said about making the team. "That's my goal, I plan to do that. I pray every night for it. I love it here. I don't plan to go home."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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