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James Starks running in 'midseason form'

8/14/2014

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It takes a lot to impress Eddie Lacy, but even the Green Bay Packers' laid-back running back was rapt as James Starks plowed his way through the Tennessee Titans in Saturday's preseason opener.

Lacy, who was held out of the game, saw Starks rush for 49 yards on just six carries and cap the opening drive with a 20-yard touchdown run in monsoon-like conditions.

"I think it was cool, especially in those conditions," Lacy said. "I don't know how the footing was because I wasn't on the field, but I think he ran the ball [well]."

Maybe that should not have been a surprise given how Starks ran it last season. His performance against the Titans looked like a continuation of 2013.

"He's in midseason form," running backs coach Sam Gash said. "He runs as angry as he did last year. He runs with a purpose."

While Lacy and his Packers' rookie rushing record of 1,178 yards received all the attention, Starks had the most productive of his four NFL seasons. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry, more than a yard better than his previous best of 4.3 in 2011.

Perhaps even more importantly, he played in 11 straight games to finish the season, the longest stretch he has stayed healthy since appearing in the first 12 games of 2011.

It could not have come at a better time for Starks. He was in the final year of his rookie contract and perhaps answered some questions for the Packers -- and the rest of the NFL -- about his durability and production.

Still, running backs that rush for 493 yards, as Starks did last season, don't draw much interest. Although he said he had conversations with a few teams, Starks returned to the Packers on a two-year deal that included just a $725,000 signing bonus.

"I didn't really want to go anywhere else," Starks said. "I like it here. It's kind of like my family. This is all I really knew. I think it was a comfortable situation."

As long as Lacy is healthy, Starks, who not long ago was viewed as a possible long-term starter, will be No. 2 in Green Bay.

That could be a point of contention for some players.

"Starks isn't like that at all," Lacy said. "We definitely do push each other, but we understand it's not like because I'm a starter, I'm better than you are because you're second-string and used to play. There's not that kind of tension at all. We both understand what we have to do and we go do it."

Last season, Starks and Lacy combined for 2,017 total yards, including 1,671 rushing. They believe that -- and possibly more -- is doable again.

"It definitely should be," Lacy said. "We have the same approach. We're teammates but we're going to push each other so we can get the best out of each other."