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Grant and Starks To Compete For Starting Job?

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Grant and Starks To Compete For Starting Job?

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.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (42) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

PackersRS's picture

All in all, I expect Grant to be the starter, simply because he's a proven veteran that can hold onto the ball. While Starks was outstanding, coaches kept reminding him to hold onto the football.

That said, if he proves he can not fumble, then it's, like you said, about who is better at the passing game. IMHO Starks proved a better blocker than Grant has ever shown, and coupled with his hands and improved knowledge of the playbook, it'll be hard for Grant to hold onto the spot.

Both are proven runners. I don't think that's what's in question.

For Grant to retain the position, he has to prove he can be effective as a pass blocker and catcher, something he hasn't done before.

For Starks, he has to show he has full knowledge of the playbook and that he's secure with the football.

Esox's picture

Starks had exactly zero fumbles in 698 rushing attempts in college and zero so far in the NFL. (I've heard he never fumbled once in high school either). That's crazy. I don't think ball security is an issue for him. He is also a much better receiver than Grant. He appears to have already leap frogged him with respect to pass pro. Think of the options that gives McCarthy.

Even so, I still think Grant enters camp as the starter and remains the starter in name for the season. That's his last season under contract so the Packers probably want to get their money's worth while saving the legs of Starks who is the future.

packeraaron's picture

I think the fact that Starks "runs high" and the fact that he was a rookie who hadn't played in so long played into the coaching staff's fears about his ball security - but PackersRS is right, the staff reminded him about ball security constantly.

Oppy's picture

Boy, this sure sounds like a ploy to ensure that a player who's practice habits and perhaps motivation were called into question last season puts his nose to the grind stone, stays in shape and hones his skills during an off season that will be much more extended than normal and without team contact or intervention due to CBA issues/ Labor dispute...

Is this the classic carrot-dangle-in-front-of-donkey?

Yeah, yeah, I know the coaches did a 180 and retracted comments about Starks' lack of understanding what it takes to be a pro and prepare by showering him with compliments about how hard he practices, but clearly, there were some concerns about his prep or the original comments would have never been made.

Tell a kid he has a crack at the starting job, and now you've got both players committed to working even harder during this down time. Not that RG needs extra motivation, he seems like a self-starter already.. Starks? Who knows.

Just a thought.

PackersRS's picture

You could be right, but I don't know. I don't know if the comments were really towards him lacking proper practice habits, as much as it was him taking longer than expected to master the playbook (which is not a direct indication of lack of preparation, as people have different learning rythms), and the coaches trying to justify not using him despite a lacking running game.

Ryan Molstad's picture

Sorry PackersRS, but Starks hasn't proven anything in the blocking department yet. He wasn't asked to do much of it thus far so there's no way you can say he has already passed Grant in that department. In fact, I specifically remember several plays that Rodgers took shots due to Starks missing a blitz pick-up (see Super Bowl XLV for a good one). I also think Starks does a good job carrying the ball high and tight, and has yet to show any propensity to "not hold onto the football." He was a rookie starting in the playoffs, of course the coaches are going to tell him not to fumble over and over. I do think Starks is a much more instinctive and better overall RB (including pass catching) than Grant, and the better long-term solution, but Grant is still the veteran and starter until proven otherwise. Not trying to attack ya, just don't agree with your premise. Either way, it should make for a great camp battle.

Go Pack.

PackersRS's picture

You are correct that he gave some pressures, but he was asked to block.

I can count on my fingers the plays where Grant was asked to stay and block and did so sucessfully.

Maybe it was just me paying more attention to Starks' blocking than Grant's, but if I am correct, it speaks a lot about him if coaches trusted him to stay and block, and didn't Grant.

Regarding the fumble issue, he didn't, and I didn't say he had a problem. What I pointed out, and was the truth, is that after EVERY SINGLE play the coaches vehemently emphasised him holding onto the football.

It's more about what coaches think than what really happens. The NFL is still ruled by "coaches common sense". One of them is that you don't give away someone's job due to injury, specially if the one contending for a job is a young player that didn't have a lot of work.

cow42's picture

Sign Jackson.
Sign Kuhn.
Draft an RB.
Cut Grant (30+last year of contract+injured wheel+can't block+can't catch+owed a lot of $=gone).

packsmack25's picture

Grant is 28, won't be 29 until December, and is a proven asset in the NFL. No chance he gets cut unless his injury caused a major talent loss.

cow42's picture

if they were to keep him would he play past the 2011 season?
in other words - will he get an extension?
if not, then why keep him? what's he owed for '11?
they just won a SB without him.
he's expendable.

in '12 i'd rather be looking at...

'11 draft pick



Nerdmann's picture

Starks can cut, has vision, is a good receiver, can get to the corner, and is younger.
Grant is a proven commodity, in what he can and CAN'T do. Like get to (or around) the corner, catch the ball consistently, see openings, cut into openings, etc.
Still, I'd keep Grant around. He's been productive.

Jmac34's picture

I don't think Grant should be cut, he has been a decent player in Green Bay and Starks is not proven that he can stay healthy a full year. Grant is a good backup plan if he doesn't win the starting job. As an added bonus is he is a good person in the community.

lebowski's picture

When a player unhappy with their role and delusional about their starting ability signs Drew Rosenhaus as their agent.... kiss him goodbye.

FITZCORE1252's picture

Hell yes.

You let them show what they have and go with the guy that shows the most, love it. Competition breeds success, nobody rests on their laurels. No matter how it shakes out we have a solid #2. "IF" Starks can beat out Grant for #1, so be it... other way around, so be it. But in this scenario you know whomever is out there earned it, and nobody can question a damn thing about it. For the record, I think Grant still has a good 1,000+ productive carries in him, just gots me a feelin'.


PackersRS's picture

Completely agree Fitz. This is absolutely true except for QB. QB competition is stupid, it takes away precious reps. If you have 2 QBs, you have no QB...

But for every other position, you're absolutely right.

Plus there's the possibility of injury, specially with a RB, and the rotation possibility, keeping both of them fresh (though the max a RB carries the ball under MM is 25 times...)

MarkinMadison's picture

Lebowski - The ONLY thing that keeps me from agreeing with you is that the rest of the league had to have seen what we all did: BJAX was handed the starting job and could not hold off a rookie who hadn't played in two years. I think there is a chance that he comes back after no one gives him what he wants.

The only way I can see Grant being cut or traded is if TT picks up a rookie that wows the coaches' socks off. In a Grant v. Starks world, the only winner is a coaching staff that gets to play whoever has the hot hand. I'm a little uneasy about Starks' "upright running style." Every time I read a scouting report with that phrase in it, the word "injury" immediately follows.

Oppy's picture

It's the exact same running style RB Ryan Grant has, for all intensive purposes.

They are both tall, upright runners, which theoretically exposes more of their bodies to hits, increasing the chances for injury.

Here's the thing, though. No one ever talks about WR's upright running styles. They run as high as you can get, and there's plenty of safeties out there who can bring it like a LB..

I don't worry about it. I personally think both genetics and luck (or lack thereof) play a bigger role in injury to RBs than how high or low they run.But that's just me.

FITZCORE1252's picture

Intents and purposes. Just helping you keep your game tight Oppster.

Oppy's picture

Appreciate that, Fitz.

A little background on me:

I'm completely illiterate, so I am unable to write or read what is posted. I have hired man-servants whom take my dictation and make my posts for me.

Since you have pointed out this glaring error, I will now have to fire Archibald and begin my search for a new online stenographer.

Wait a second, does that mean I'm fired?

FITZCORE1252's picture

"I have hired man-servants whom take my dictation and make my posts for me." LOL.

Don't rush a decision on Archibald. He generally does great work. And for the record, the only reason I mentioned it is because somebody corrected me a couple years back when I said the same thing. So I googled it and... I'll be damned, I was saying it wrong all these years. Now we both know. I'm not grammar guy, I promise you and Archie.

PkrNboro's picture

for all of the talk about an "upright" running style, I also heard comments about how Starks could/would "fall forward" to gain some yardage (as opposed to BJAX losing yardage in a similar situation)... seems contradictory to me, as an upright runner would be stymied, or lose ground after contact.

Fumble-prone/upright-running -- reminds me of the all angst about Rodgers being injury prone (after breaking bone in NE game), which turned out to be a lot of hand-wringing...

PackersRS's picture

Agreed as well. As with Kuhn, Bjax is much more valuable to us than to any other team. Rare teams value ball control and pass blocking more than running and speed...

Mel's picture

If I remeber correctly starks ran well in one game.. Philly with the jumbo blocking package.. Two FBs. Grant never ran behind that kind of blocking and before he got hurt had two concetive seasons over 1000 yds. I hope starks is for real but lets not get a head of our selfs in cutting grant. We had NO running game all year long before the playoffs so lets see how starks does this year. Bjax should gone for sure.

PackersRS's picture

Not true at all. The guy led the playoffs in yards. Give him credit.
He ran really well against all teams, even against Pittsburgh's outstanding run D.

He had 52 yards in 11 attempts. 4.7 YPC
Michael Turner in week 1 had 42 yards in 19 carries. That's 2.2 YPC.

packeraaron's picture

I think he ran well against the Eagles and Steelers. He was pretty pedestrian against the Falcons and Bears.

Morli's picture

Let's not forget: Starks is abilitywise somewhere around round 2 or 3 (in a class of numerous good RBs). He was quite a back in college prior to his injury. And as Tom Silverstein doesn't get tired to point out, this guy, with halfway decent coaching, will be "really, really good." (I think, that's what he said, quote-unquote).

Oppy's picture

Welll, I guess that begs the question, "Will James Starks receive 'half-way decent coaching' in Green Bay with the recent coaching changes?"

Can of worms opened.

Oppy's picture

ACtually, you know, on that note, I wonder if a tiny bit of the thought process in moving fontenot to RB coach and Bennet to WR is that Fontenot being an OL player/asst coach could help get the RBs in sync a little more with the ZBS, while Bennet's stellar work with the RBs in the realm of ball protection could perhaps translate to curing some of the dropsies and fumble issues our WRs have had the last few years.

I understand the bulk of the decision was simply promote from within and give two (younger) up and coming coaches more exposure and experience, but it would be interesting if these other elements helped underscore the decisions.

aussiepacker's picture

thats a good way to look at it oppy and i hope thats the case.

bomdad's picture

Combined, have these guys been through one whole training camp?

WoodyG's picture

It doesn't really matter much who's deemed the 'starter' ...... The competition is all about getting carries ...... If both Grant & Starks are mostly healthy all season, either could have the most carries & it could vary from game to game .... It's also possible that GB could improve it's rushing stats from 2010 - (421/1606/3.8) to 2011 & still not have a 1000 yard rusher .......

I'm probably more concerned that if BJ is not retained that 'blitz pick-up' will become a liability ...... Another RB with that ability may have to surface from somewhere ...... I'd hate to see the NFL's best QB get blindsided by some blitzing LB because Grant/Starks just don't get it .......

WoodyG's picture

FYI .....
" No parade for Aaron Rodgers "

PackersRS's picture

I agree with this, but there's 2 issues.

First, MM never used a RB by commitee. (Well, he used it last year, but more because he didn't have a reliable runner. In the playoffs, he mostly used one RB,except in the SB, and still, it was Starks who ran the majority of the time).

Second, there's the thesis that Grant does his best work with more carries.

Regarding Jackson and blitz pickup, they also utilized Kuhn heavily on pickups. And there's Starks improving on that. But it's an unproven situation, no doubt. While I know there's intern solutions to that problem, I don't feel sure about it.

And thank you for the link. Once again, this proves QB1 has his head on the right place and won't go diva on us. Personally, I feel lucky to have him at the helm.

Oppy's picture

There's almost no way I see Grant losing this competition, now that I think about it.

Not only is he competing for carries and pride, but since his contract is -heavily- laden with performance based incentives, if he's not the primary ball carrier, he's not going to get paid very well.

PackersRS's picture

Couldn't that last point make him affordable if he's not the main carrier, thus giving the coaches more incentive to use a backfield-by-committee? That is, if he's not a disturbance...

Chip Soup's picture

True, RS, but Grant seems like a pretty savvy individual, as many players are. If there is a sense that management is manipulating performance and holding individuals back from their performance goals, motivation and morale suffer among the players, sometimes to the point of "disturbance", but often not. MM seems to understand this, for example, when he gives players (ie Grant a couple of years ago) opportunities at the end of the season to reach performance escalators. I think I remember Grant getting a 1200 yard bonus, if I'm not mistaken.

One of the keys to the Grant/Starks competition we will never directly hear about is leadership. After the SB victory, MM mentioned he hadn't been exactly thrilled at times with the player leaders last year. Is he talking about guys like Grant and Barnett?

PackersRS's picture

Good point.

I think MM's comments wasn't about bad leadership, as much as it was lack of leadership. Woodson and Rodgers weren't vocal guys, and he needed them to be.

Oppy's picture

The packers don't have an owner who profits from saving money.

They are in the business of football for the sake of winning.

Therefore, there will not be decisions made in the name of saving money.

Whoever is reliable and productive will play.

PackersRS's picture


Bring that up again when Jenkins isn't retained.

It's not about money per se, but cap space. If Grant's escalators don't count against the cap, it's a way of retaining him.

I'm not saying it would be the reason for a 2 back system. But I believe it could influence if the coaches are on the fence.

mark's picture

There may be a battle in camp, I'm sure Grant will have opportunity, but sooner or later (and I'm thinking sooner) Starks is going to be the dude in Green Bay.

Write it down folks. It's happening.

Paul Ott Caruth's picture

Grant will remain the starter. However, Starks gives the offense more versatility in that he has the ability to catch from the backfield and be removed from the backfield to a flanker or slot position from 2 back sets, thus creating mismatches in space vs. linebackers. Given more reps at running the ball I believe he will become the focal point at the skill positions (WR,TE, RB) for the offense. Grant is proven but is not a complete back. Pass blocking for both is a push in my opinion. Starks did a fine job of pass pro in the playoffs. I recall he absolutely trucked a Falcon defender pressuring Rodgers.

Kuhn will be back. He's a good utility back (can play both FB and TB). He has better than average receiving ability as well. He can also play special teams. Jackson is gone. I said this to a colleague months ago. Below average runner, decent receiving skills but doesn't contribute on special teams in any way. When a 7th round pick who missed over half the season takes the reins from you that's all you need to know about your time left with the team.

Chip Soup's picture

Paul Ott Caruth, I can totally see why you thing Kuhn will be back - he is a bigger, better version of, well, Paul Ott Caruth. And I agree. But Jackson may be a different story. He got nothing but praise last year even when he was giving up carries to the rookie Starks. Depending on whether a RB is drafted, I see Jackson back here as soon as he finds out the rest of the league sees him as a change of pace at best.

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