Availability Starks’ issue, not production

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
5:40
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Rarely has Green Bay Packers running back James Starks’ ability ever come into question.

After all, he was good enough be the team’s starter in Super Bowl XLV.

In fact, back in 2010, the Packers thought perhaps they had their starting running back of the future in the sixth-round pick from Buffalo despite a college career that was cut short by a shoulder injury that cost him his senior season and a hamstring injury that delayed the start of his rookie season until Week 13.

[+] EnlargeJames Starks
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsJames Starks likely earned a starting nod on Sunday after his 132-yard effort against Washington.
But along the way, Starks encountered more injury problems – an ankle that cost him three games in 2011 followed by toe and knee injuries last season that kept him out of the first five games and last six games, respectively.

In his first three seasons, Starks played in only 22 of a possible 48 regular-season games.

When the Packers discovered DuJuan Harris off the street midway through last season and then drafted Eddie Lacy in the second round and Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round last April, Starks’ days appeared to be numbered.

“I felt like I let my team down, my teammates (down), and I wanted to come back in the best shape of my life and show them you know, I’m willing to work for whatever I get,” Starks said on Wednesday.

For now, it appears Starks has another opportunity. After rushing for 132 yards on 20 carries in relief of the injured Eddie Lacy, whose concussion knocked him out of Sunday’s 38-20 win over the Washington Redskins, Starks is expected to start this Sunday at Cincinnati regardless of whether Lacy is cleared to return.

For Starks, it’s quite the turnaround considering he didn’t play in the final six games (including playoffs) last season after he sustained a knee injury on Dec. 2 against Minnesota – a game in which he carried 15 times for 66 yards and a touchdown.

By the time Starks was healthy for the NFC Divisional playoff game at San Francisco, the Packers didn’t even need him. He was considered a healthy inactive.

“For me, this year, I’ve put in 100 percent effort no matter what,” Starks said. “Every time my number’s called, I want to be able to go in there and perform at a high level and play successful. So coming in this year, that was my mindset, and that’s going to continue to be my mindset.”

Starks might not have even made the Packers’ roster coming out of training camp had Harris been healthy (he was lost for the year to a knee injury in the preseason) and Franklin (who has yet to play on offense) been more effective.

“We know what he’s capable of,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s been injured off and on during time here with us. I think we’ve seen when he’s been 100 percent healthy the kind of back he can be.”

Rob Demovsky

ESPN Green Bay Packers reporter

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