When looking at the Packers roster heading into 2011 (as much as one can with all the labor uncertainty) one thing I thought I knew was that Ryan Grant would be the starter and that James Starks would be a heavily used backup. A 1 and 1a if you will.
Then along comes Vic Ketchman over on the Packers’ website writing the following:
If and when training camp begins, the stage will be set for a high-profile battle between Ryan Grant and James Starks.
Grant was coming off his best season as a pro when he was lost for the season in the opener in Philadelphia last year. Grant had put together consecutive 1,200-yard rushing seasons and was the perfect complement to an Aaron Rodgers led offense that clearly wants to lean on the pass and use the run to establish balance.
Will he have made a full recovery from ankle surgery? Can he hold off Starks? Those are the two questions Grant will have to answer in 2011.
Starks came out of nowhere late in the season to emerge as a force in the offense. He had a breakout game in the playoff win in Philadelphia.
A sixth-round pick out of Buffalo last year, Starks has the size and speed to suggest he has a future as a featured runner. He’s a player to watch in the Packers’ future.
I have to admit, I had been under the assumption that Grant would slide back into his starting role, no question. And I do think Starks has a promising future (McCarthy’s direct quote during the combine: “I’m as excited as hell about James Starks”).
But the more I think about it, the more I could see a full-on position battle for the starting tailback spot. Grant is a proven runner and Starks certainly has the talent. The one issue with both of them is their less-than-stellar play when it comes to pass protection, though to be honest I thought Starks was surprisingly improved in that area during the playoffs.
It will be interesting to see what the Packers do in regards to free-agents-to-be Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn for this very reason. While I have been an advocate for the Packers to bring back Jackson, the Packers could easily bring back Kuhn and retain the pass blocking prowess they need for McCarthy’s offense. (Check out the Super Bowl again – Kuhn was in on a great many 3rd down plays as the lone back in the backfield, protecting Rodgers.) And Kuhn has reportedly said he expects to return to Green Bay, which is a far cry from what Jackson has done – which is to enlist the help of Drew Rosenhaus.
However the supplemental roles shake out, watching Grant and Starks compete for the starting job during training camp, whenever the hell it is, would certainly be a treat.