Notebook: Starks Can't Get Healthy

The rookie running back's hamstring hasn't healed and time is running out. Plus, we've got injury updates ahead of Thursday's preseason game, including news on Bryan Bulaga and Al Harris, and much, much more from an eventful Tuesday at training camp.

James Starks just can't get healthy.

The sixth-round running back from Buffalo, who injured his hamstring during OTAs and re-injured it during the pre-training camp conditioning test, still hasn't practiced. Starks, with his 93 receptions during his final two collegiate seasons, had the potential to add a new dimension to the Packers' dynamic offense. Instead, his odds of making the roster are decreasing by the day.

"He was improving at the beginning of the week," coach Mike McCarthy said after Tuesday's practice. "Yesterday was not one of his better days in the rehab, so we're still up and down there. He will not play this week. I'm not counting on him this week."

That leaves just three practices and one game remaining in the preseason and before the final roster must be set on Sept. 4. Because Starks was placed on the physically unable to perform list before the start of training camp, putting him on regular-season PUP is one option. That would give Starks six more weeks to heal. The other options are season-ending injured reserve and cutting him and trying to bring him back to the practice squad. Injured reserve guarantees Starks will be around for next season but that forbids him from practicing.

In Starks' absence, undrafted Quinn Porter has impressed and fullback John Kuhn has shown he can be an effective fill-in at halfback.

"Right now, the big thing is it's more mental than anything else until they're able to get out there and physically show us what they're capable of doing. That's what is the emphasis for them," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said.

Injury updates

McCarthy said Cullen Jenkins is a "long shot" to play Thursday because of a calf injury sustained on Monday night. Nobody on the active roster has been ruled out, including linebacker Brad Jones (shoulder) and receiver Greg Jennings (back spasms).

One player who definitely will suit up is first-round pick Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga exited Monday night's practice with a hip flexor but was back on the field for Tuesday's padded practice. Like the first two preseason games, he'll rotate with Daryn Colledge at left guard with the starters.

"I mean, I hate watching," Bulaga said. "I think it's the worst thing. Especially because my last year at Iowa, I had to watch for three weeks and I hated it. So if I can be out there and I can be functional and I can do things at a high level, I can do my job, I want to be out there."

The injured list included receiver Brett Swain (rest for knee), running backs Kregg Lumpkin (hamstring) and Quinn Porter (ankle), linebackers Clay Matthews (hamstring) and Jones, offensive lineman Allen Barbre (back) and Jennings. Back in action after a lengthy absence was inside linebacker Alex Joseph (quad).

Meanwhile, rumors of Harris' return turned out to be premature.

"Al Harris is still fighting through rehab and he is getting better and better," McCarthy said. "All of the reports are always positive when we talk to medical staff, but there is a protocol when you come off a major type injury that Al has gone through. He is doing everything he can, I can promise you that, but still today he is not ready to pass the physical."

Thursday's schedule

The third preseason game is generally used as a dress rehearsal for the regular season, and that appears to be McCarthy's plan of attack. The starters will play the first half and potentially a series into the third quarter.

"It's really different for all three phases," McCarthy said. "The offensive group has been able to play two weeks in a row as a full group. The defensive group has had more injuries that affected the starters or the first group or however you want to look at it. Special teams has really been about which phase. We have been able to keep the group together more in the punt protection part of it. We have had the whole roster on the kickoff coverage depth chart participate in the first two games. We're going to try to gather as much information in certain aspects of the team, but the first half should give us a pretty good grade of where we are."

Four-point stance

— The punting battle continued. In six attempts (not including a pooch punt), Chris Bryan averaged 44.7 yards. Tim Masthay got five punts (not including a pooch) and averaged a whopping 53.2. For some perspective, though, one of Masthay's punts traveled 56 yards and rocketed into the end zone for a touchback. Another was a 64-yard bomb to the 1 that also would have been a touchback. It also appeared Masthay hit one down the middle rather than to the sideline. Meanwhile, Bryan's punt from the defense's 40 was fielded with a fair catch at the 10. Masthay's pooch was caught by gunner Pat Lee at the 4.

— Ted Thompson addressed a few reporters before practice. Asked about his concern level with Justin Harrell's back, Thompson said: "Obviously, he has a little bit of history of nagging history of injuries that have kind of held him back, but so far, so good. We thought he played a little bit better in the first game than he did in the second, but we are working through it. That's training camp, that's preseason."

— For all the talk about the Packers' injuries — and there have been a lot of them — they've luckily avoided any season-enders.

"Pepper (Burruss) and Pat (McKenzie) and that staff, they keep records of all that sort of stuff and compare them from year to year," Thompson said. "Quite frankly, sometimes there's a little deviation, but the numbers stay pretty static. Fortunately, we haven't had any real bad injuries, but we have had enough nagging stuff that it causes you to be thin at certain positions. Like I've said before, it's sort of a wheel that keeps rolling around. If you get thin at a spot, then you put more pressure on the guys that you do have playing and they have to play more reps."

— With Brandon Chillar back at inside linebacker, it appears Desmond Bishop — again — is the odd man out.

"If he wants to play, he's going to have to tough it out and he's going to have to take somebody's job," inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said. "I'm confident that he'll do that. I'm confident that he'll always stay ready. Before the season's over with, Desmond will have played enough snaps. He'll be on the field."

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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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