Starks has Always been able to Answer the Packers' call

While some may see him fit to be a starter elsewhere, the Packers are lucky enough to have James Starks in their corner.

Shadows of doubt began looming in the form of clouds over Lincoln Financial Field in September 2010. At least not for the Philadelphia Eagles, who were opening their season with a contest at home against the visiting Green Bay Packers.
 
Then-starting running back Ryan Grant was looking to create the trifecta of one-thousand-yard rushing seasons. After seven touches, his eighth ultimately ended his hopes for the milestone. Several torn ligaments in his right ankle at the end of an 18-yard run left Grant hobbling not just to the sideline, but to injured reserve.
 
Not to say Brandon Jackson, who, at the time, had been with the team for three seasons already, couldn't shoulder the load in Grant's absence. However, turning to Jackson, newly-signed Dimitri Nance as a last resort and fullback John Kuhn to sustain the Packers' rushing attack was a tall task. But, as the season went on, they did just that. While the scenario was less than optimal, the trio combined for just under 1,100 yards. Still failing to eclipse the 1,200-plus mark set by Grant in the two seasons prior, aiming to "sustain" the running game was child's play. At least that's how the 10th-ranked offense made it look. Even with the juvenile Aaron Rodgers having his least productive season as a starter.
 
The Packers soon earned a playoff berth - a playoff berth that would mark the birth of another weapon at running back. The average success the ground game featured in 2010 masked the silhouette of James Starks, who had to wait until early December of that same year to see the field. When he did, he bolted onto the scene against the 49ers, rushing for 73 yards and even returning a couple of kick-offs. 
 
The true skill set that Starks brought to the Packers' moderately one-dimensional offense wasn't seen until January. In Green Bay's first playoff game in Philadelphia - the same city in which the season began and the running back situation began to flounder, Starks shattered the Packers' rookie post-season record for rushing yards. Racking up 123, it was the first of four post-season games in which Starks would be the primary running back.
 
Starks' rookie campaign essentially ended with his aiding of hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Texas. Ever since, he's met expectations placed upon him with no lingering doubt left in the footsteps of neither him nor the Packers' coaching staff.
 
While the Niagara Falls native had a solidified spot on the Packers' roster, he never truly gained a starting role with the team. In the year following the Super win, Starks indeed out-gained the returning Grant by 19 yards and on one less touch. Nevertheless, Grant was deemed the starting running back for 14 games in comparison to Starks' two. 
 
In 2012, he sat pretty in a carousel of a running game that rotated between five running backs due to injury. The team's top three rushers (not including Rodgers) were between Alex Green, the one-and-done Cedric Benson and Starks - all three of which combined for less than 1,000 yards. A fact that the 1998 Packers' rushing attack would beam proudly on. Rodgers followed up his first of two eventual MVP seasons with what could've been argued as a third. Much like the preceding year, the offense was riding the generational talent of Rodgers' arm.
 
From 2013 and on, Starks remained a beyond-viable no. 2 option behind Eddie Lacy, who the Packers drafted that same year. 
 
Coming off one of his more productive seasons in which he was relied heavily on due to Lacy's struggles along with the offense as a whole, Starks continues to show why a sufficient back-up running back is still a necessity for any roster. Especially one with his ability to accelerate out of the backfield or off of a hand-off with a sharp, one-cut running style. Starks' 601 yards on the ground in 2015 is the most from a second-string Green Bay running back since Starks' 578 in 2011, which toppled the previous mark set by Dorsey Levens in 1996 with 566.
 
Starks has shown that he's more than capable to potentially be starting on another team somewhere. But after inking a fresh, two-year deal with the Packers in March, he's here to stay. $6 million says so, as does the trust the Packers and Starks have accumulated in their relationship over the last six years. Whether it be a Super Bowl champion from the 90s in Edgar Bennett coaching him up, or Jerry Fontenot who briefly served a role as the running backs coach before being swapped to monitoring tight ends and placing Alex Van Pelt in Starks' orbit. Consistency has always been a friend of Starks.
 
This season, however, has sung a different tune for him. At least so far.
 
He has more carries (11) than he does yards (10), as well as less opportunities in the screen passing game where he assembled 392 yards in 2015. He's received opportunities to push his carries outside the right tackle, where he's totaled a nauseating negative yard on four carries.
 
Starks has found most success on the opposite edge, turning the corner around the left tackle where he's gained seven of his 10 total yards through two games. A less than optimal stat, but more so telling to the lack of commitment to running the ball.
 
Well, maybe that's not entirely true. Lacy has more carries in the first two games than he has in the first two games of any season he's played in his career with more than 15 carries. 
 
Finding success between the tandem of Lacy and Starks will bring positive changes to the offense, which has been downright repulsive in the opening pair of games. Starks, meanwhile, still needs to prove he was worth every bit of that $6 million-dollar investment.

__________________________

Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (9)

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Phillthy's picture

September 24, 2016 at 10:47 pm

The 6 mil is compensatory for the work he's done in the past. It's sort of unfortunate we never got to see him truly tried in that lead RB role, but his struggles is pass protection delegated him to his back up role.
Also it seems he may not stand up to a 16 game season as #1, fears from a college injury still linger. Starks, much like Flynn, should continue in Packer lore for the next man up mentality that lead us to a super bowl win, and exciting victories after.

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ray nichkee's picture

September 25, 2016 at 06:55 am

Just hang onto the ball, Starks.

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barutanseijin's picture

September 25, 2016 at 07:46 am

Good for him for sticking around for so long, but at this point he's just a guy. TT's reasoning behind the contract is a mystery to me.

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carusotrap's picture

September 25, 2016 at 08:42 am

Those sorts of personnel "mysteries" are happening with disturbing regularity lately.

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Hematite's picture

September 25, 2016 at 07:59 am

Give Lacy the ball 25-30 times!
The only time Starks should get off the bench is when Lacy can't go anymore.

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fastmoving's picture

September 25, 2016 at 08:28 am

starks is way better than lacy. better vision, way more burst. if you give lacy the ball 25+ he will be on life support. with an 2,5 ypc. he has probably 4 good carries between warming up and being totally exhausted.
but either way this team will only playin as good as his qb does.............. and thats not a good thing at the moment

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J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

September 25, 2016 at 03:18 pm

Did you watch the game today? Everything you said is so very wrong. Lacy is a much better rb. Are you Stark's sister or something??

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kentspotts's picture

September 25, 2016 at 09:01 am

Mix them up more and play both. Lacy up the gut & Starks OT or end runs. Packers were best when versatile.

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L's picture

September 26, 2016 at 10:24 am

At this point Starks needs to be Lacy's pure handcuff -- he only comes in to give Lacy a breather or in case Lacy gets banged up; otherwise, the team would be better off rotating in T.Montgomery and R.Cobb into the backfield as occasional change-of-pace guys, not Starks.

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