Starks could help Packers’ struggling run game

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GREEN BAY, WIS. (AP) - James Starks had 18 carries for 73 yards against the San Francisco 49ers and his coaches didn’t cite him for any major mistakes in pass protection. He even remembered to thank his offensive linemen.

Not bad for a rookie who hadn’t played a meaningful down in nearly two years.

“The kid, he never gave the impression that it was too big for him,” Packers running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. “He was poised, I guess you could say. Even in pregame warmups, you saw it in his eyes. This kid was ready to play.”

He certainly had plenty of time to get ready before.

Starks missed his entire senior season at Buffalo because of a shoulder injury and slipped to the sixth round of the draft before the Packers chose him.

Then he hurt his hamstring in offseason workouts and began the season on the physically unable to perform list. Green Bay added him to the active roster Nov. 9 but didn’t get into a game until Sunday.

“Even when I was out, I was in the playbook a lot more than probably the other guys,” Starks said. “They were probably tired and drained out. I had a little extra time to study the playbook and get in there and learn concepts a lot more. I feel like I’m pretty much catching up. It doesn’t feel like I’m far behind at all.”

Coaches believe Starks has far more to show, and are eager to see his speed.

“When he comes off the back end, you better watch out,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s going to the end zone.”

Bennett insists the 6-2, 218-pound Starks runs a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash and can be a breakaway threat.

“Oh yeah,” Bennett said. “He has that type of ability.”

Bennett praised Starks for using his time away from football to prepare.

“This kid was coming in here early and leaving late, studying film and making sure he was raring to go,” Bennett said. “Like I said, it was about making the most of his opportunity. And he was excited to get out there and play with his teammates. He kept talking about going down and complimenting the offensive line for the job they were doing, I mean, when you see a young kid that in tune, making sure that he thanked his teammates, that’s what it’s all about.”

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers _ who hasn’t been afraid to get after teammates for their mental mistakes of late _ made it clear he wants to see more out of Starks and other younger players in practice.

“Say what you want about Ryan Grant. Obviously, I think he’s a lot more appreciated in injury than in health, unfortunately,” Rodgers said. “That guy, no one could ever question his practice habits. Look at Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Brett Swain. Those guys practice as well as everybody. Every day they bring it. Jermichael (Finley) became that player this season. I want to see those young guys take that seriously.

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