GREEN BAY – After fumbling the ball – and getting benched – in the Green Bay Packers’ second preseason game, James Starks found himself at the bottom of the team’s running back depth chart.
That didn’t last for long – the Packers lost DuJuan Harris for the season to a knee injury and released Alex Green shortly after – but having played in only six games last season because of a preseason toe injury and late-season knee injury, Starks had to prove he could stay healthy before he could prove he deserved a roster spot.
Add in the fact that general manager Ted Thompson had drafted two running backs – Eddie Lacy in the second round and Johnathan Franklin in the fourth – and everyone knew Starks was in danger of not making the roster.
“I think in training camp, he was definitely on the bubble. But he kept a really good attitude and that’s impressive to the guys,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after Starks carried 20 times for a career-high 132 yards in the Packers’ 38-20 victory over the Washington Redskins at Lambeau Field Sunday. “James is a guy who’s gotten better every year. And this is the kind of performance we can see every week in practice, making these kinds of runs. He finishes hard. He’s a big back with a lot of strength – as you saw on the run on the sidelines. I’m just really happy for him.”
For his part, Starks said he wasn’t worrying about his chances of making the 53-man roster, even when things looked bleak following his benching in St. Louis for fumbling.
“I just tried to come out and perform how I knew I could, be available when the time came and whatever they asked me to do I tried to do,” Starks said. “That was my goal coming into camp, and I’m still here.”
Starks’ time came when Lacy, who became the unquestioned started after Harris’ knee injury landed him on season-ending injured reserve, took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Washington safety Brandon Meriweather on his first carry of the game and left with a concussion.
Starks entered and reminded everyone of the player he was during the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV title run.
Starks’ 132 yards snapped the Packers’ 44-game regular-season streak of games without a 100-yard rusher dating back to Oct. 10, 2010, when Brandon Jackson ran for 115 yards against the Redskins in Washington. Starks was actually the last Packer to run for 100 yards, having run for 123 yards on 23 carries in the Packers’ 21-16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2011 NFC Wild Card playoffs. “Yeah, I’ve been through a lot (since then),” Starks said. “But I’m here, I came out of it, I’m blessed. There (isn’t) really much to say about the past. That’s in the past, I’m in the present right now, and I’m going to try to make the most out of it.”
Coach Mike McCarthy thought that Starks did make the most of what he was given on Sunday.
“James has been a good football player for us around here,” McCarthy said. “This has been a real challenge for him with Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin coming in. He’s just been a pro. I think he’s had clearly his best training camp, so this is really no surprise. He was just given an opportunity and he took advantage of it.”
Starks said he felt his “best training camp” came because of the work he put into this offseason.
“This whole offseason I worked hard,” Starks said. “I came into camp knowing all the work I put in and hoping that it paid off, and I was ready coming into this season. I'm just going to continue to focus on being a better player and continuing to keep everything rolling.”
Starks wouldn’t admit to coming into this season with a chip on his shoulder, but wide receiver James Jones said he noticed in training camp.
“James came in there today and all of training camp he’s had a chip on his shoulder,” Jones said. “I’ve been talking to him and he came out and ran like that today. He tried to punish people, tried to finish runs. If we can get that out of him every game, he adds another dimension, especially with him and Lacy, and it’s going to be a tough offense to stop.”
Lacy’s status for next Sunday’s game at Cincinnati is uncertain, but if he can’t go, it appears the Packers’ running game is in good hands again with Starks.
“I’m really proud of James Starks,” Rodgers said. “He ran it hard, he had good yards after contact and he looked like the James Starks we all know and love.”
Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop.