When James Starks took a handoff, shed two defenders, powered his way through another, and reached for a 17-yard touchdown against the Saints in last season’s opening game, it looked like the Packers were set at running back.
That run was exactly what the Packers were hoping to get from Starks. It wasn’t fancy. It wasn’t breathtaking. It was the offensive line creating a hole, Starks making a decisive cut, exploding through the hole, shaking off tackles and plowing his way for extra yards.
Unfortunately, that was one of the few decisive and explosive moments for Starks last season. It was his only touchdown run and there weren’t any other memorable runs the rest of the way.
Bothered by knee and ankle injuries, Starks looked tentative. He didn’t look like an ascending young running back ready to seize the long-term starting job on a perennial Super-Bowl contender.
Instead of the second-coming of Dorsey Levans or Ahman Green, Starks morphed into the only Packers offensive player to have a disappointing 2011 season.
Nontheless, Starks appears to be the front-runner to get the starting job in 2012.
Green might pose a challenge, but coming off a major knee injury, it’s hard to envision the second-year player from Hawaii rising that quickly.
Green, a third-round pick, was starting to see his role increase when he blew out his knee in late October against the Vikings. If Green comes back healthy and ready to contribute, he’s an all-around back with the explosiveness to rip off a long run or take a dump-off pass all the way to the end zone every now and then.
Whereas Starks is more of a one-cut and move the chains type of runner, Green has more big-play ability. At least that’s what Green’s college film tells us. We only had three carries to judge his pro career.
Lurking in the background is Saine, an undrafted rookie from Ohio St. who looked decent taking occasional swing passes from Aaron Rodgers and charging full-speed ahead.
When Saine built a head of steam, he didn’t look like an undrafted rookie. He actually looked pretty good.
Teach this kid some fundamentals and how to pass block and you never know what he might turn out to be.
While we’re all focusing on rushing yards and explosiveness, the Packers coaching staff will likely be focusing just as hard on which running back does the best job of keeping pass rushers away from Rodgers.
Starks, Green or Saine could quickly find themselves in the dog house if they allow too manly blitzers to come through and light-up the MVP QB.
There were a few occasions last season where Rodgers was visibly upset at Starks for blown blocking assignments, an issue that Starks addressed in a radio interview this week.
Having John Kuhn on the roster boosts the backfield’s pass-blocking ability, but he has a bum knee. If it takes Kuhn a while to get back and stabilize the backfield’s pass blocking, the running back battle definitely could be tilted in favor of the player who draws the fewest dirty looks and butt-chewings from the quarterback.
I’m going with Starks.
There’s always the chance that Ted Thompson makes a Ryan Grant-type of trade and brings in another back late in camp, but why would he do that when he could just pick up the phone and get Grant himself back on the team?
Starks seems to have the skills to be the type of back that can beat up defenders late in games and help the Packers preserve leads built by Rodgers’ arm. The trick is keeping Starks from getting beat up himself.
Green’s goal should be to repeat Starks’ 2010 season: Get healthy, improve as the season goes on, and make an impact down the stretch.
Saine is a wild-card. Can he block well enough to be a third-down back? I like what he does once he turns upfield.
Yes, running back was a disappointment in 2011. But as we all know, the Packers don’t need the second coming of Barry Sanders or Adrian Peterson to be successful. The backs on the roster posses the skills necessary to be a valuable part of the offense. They’ve even had fleeting moments of success.
If they can turn those fleeting moments into sustained production, the Packers offense will once again roll through the league.——————
Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .