From training camp afterthought back to the starting lineup, James Starks' journey with the Packers has come full circle.
How long he keeps the running back job may depend on how quickly rookie Eddie Lacy recovers from a concussion. But if Starks keeps churning out 100-yard games, coach Mike McCarthy will have a pleasant problem on his hands.
"James Starks is definitely someone I look at as a starter and the ability to run as many times in a football game as needed," McCarthy said Wednesday after practice. "James will get the starting opportunity this week."
Not a hard decision, really, after Starks ran for a career-best 132 yards and a 32-yard touchdown on 20 carries against the porous Redskins after Lacy left in the first quarter. It was the first time a Packer back went over the century mark in nearly three years.
Couple that with Aaron Rodgers' career-high 480 yards passing and the dangerous receiving corps of James Jones, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and tight end Jermichael Finley, and the Packers offense has the potential to be downright unstoppable.
"We know what he's capable of. He's been injured off and on during his time here with us," Rodgers said. "I think we've seen when he's been 100 percent healthy the kind of back he can be. Like most players, I'm sure he's a confidence player. The more opportunities he gets when he knows he's the guy and he's going to get a lot of reps, that can only give you more confidence."
But those carries were against Washington. Sunday's game at Cincinnati might present a much tougher challenge since the Bengals have the seventh-best defense in the league so far.
Starks gives the Bengals all due respect. He also doesn't plan on wasting this opportunity, either, especially after all the competition in camp.
Lacy was drafted in the second round out of Alabama. Johnathan Franklin was drafted in the fourth out of UCLA. DuJuan Harris, who held the starting job down the stretch last year, also was back.
Harris was considered the incumbent. Then Harris was lost for the year due to a knee injury. Starks outlasted Alex Green on roster cut-down day. Lacy ascended atop the depth chart, as expected.
Then Lacy left Green Bay's 38-20 victory over Washington in the first quarter following a headfirst tackle by Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather. Later, Meriweather left the game with his own concussion on a similar play trying to take down Starks.
Lacy watched practice Wednesday from the sideline. His status for Sunday remains uncertain. McCarthy said the promising rookie was making progress, and he was involved in team meetings.
"That's always a positive sign, but he's got a couple more tests in front of him that he has to pass before he'll be able to practice," McCarthy said.
Fullback John Kuhn also missed Wednesday's practice with a hamstring injury.
Which brings the Packers back to Starks.
"For me this year, I've put in 100 percent effort ... no matter what," Starks said. "Every time my number (is) called, I want to be able to go in there and perform at a high level and play successful."
Worked last week. He's experienced at handling the load, too, after starting during Green Bay's playoff run to the 2011 Super Bowl.
But he has been bogged down by injuries. Then a rookie out of Buffalo, Starks was sidelined by a hamstring injury early in that Super Bowl year. An ankle injury bothered him for several weeks in 2011. Toe and knee problems sidelined him for parts of 2012.
Despite all the physical issues, Starks led the Packers with 833 yards rushing over the previous two seasons.
Starks said he's more focused now. "My mindset is at a high. I feel good," he said at his locker.
It could be the seasoning that comes with grinding out a four-year NFL career, the experience of knowing what could be after watching so many games from the sideline.
"That's, I mean, that's the will of a player," he said. "I never give up. ... These guys are my family. I'm going to do all I can to come back and be the best I can be to help the team win."
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