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Starks Looking To Make His Mark

Rookie running back James Starks last played in a game more than 18 months ago, and he knows questions about his durability will linger until he gets back on the field and stays there.


Starks, who was selected by the Packers in the sixth round of this year's draft out of the University at Buffalo, sat out his entire senior campaign following shoulder surgery last August. While that missed time surely caused his draft stock to plummet, Starks said he is pain-free and is trying to look at the positive side of the year away from game action.

"People look at it as if, 'Man, he didn't play a whole season,'" Starks said. "I have to look at it as a good thing. I didn't take any bangs and I got to work out and get stronger, building my strength and endurance as far as my shoulders and everything. I should be fine."

Starks entered his senior year as a preseason All-America and All-Mid-American Conference selection. He was originally limited by the shoulder injury in spring practice, tried to play through it and aggravated the problem, which turned out to be a torn labrum.

His production was undeniable in the three years he did play at Buffalo as he finished his career as the school's all-time leader in rushing yards (3,140), rushing touchdowns (34), and points scored (222) despite missing that final year. He set a single-season school record with 1,333 rushing yards as a junior.

"James Starks is very explosive," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's a very athletic running back. He's a taller, high-cut type runner. You can see the ability, the natural running instincts. But he has a lot to learn.

"He missed plenty of time in college, he's missed some time here. Number one would be he needs to focus on his availability, and just his ability to play injury-free. And the second part of it is obviously just to catch up schematically and get into the technical things that we're asking our running backs to do."

Starks missed some time early in OTAs due to a hamstring injury, but has been back on the field the last two weeks. With the time missed, Starks said the importance of learning the playbook has taken on even greater significance as he tries to get up to speed as much as he can.

"I am going to be accountable, just as (Coach McCarthy) asked," Starks said. "I'm going to try to do my best to learn as much as I can and as fast as possible. Just stay in the playbook and be a sponge.

"You've just got to stay in there every day, live in the book basically. Take some time off, but then after that, it's a job. You have to learn the playbook in order to stay here. I've got to learn it."

With Ryan Grant firmly entrenched as the starting running back and fourth-year back Brandon Jackson settling into his role as a third-down back, Starks could be competing with Kregg Lumpkin for a roster spot. Lumpkin made the roster in '08 as a non-drafted free agent, appearing in two games, and spent all of last season on the practice squad.

"I just want to live (up) to everybody's expectations and I don't want to let anybody down," Starks said. "Like I said, I am just going to do what I can do. I'm not going to try to do too much. I'm just going to play within myself, play within what the coach wants me to do, and hopefully that will work out best for me."

Third phase
McCarthy said the Packers will only bring one kicker to training camp, veteran Mason Crosby.

Crosby connected on 75 percent (27 of 36) field-goal attempts in 2009, his third season, but endured a four-game stretch that saw him miss a field goal from 43 yards or closer in each contest. He still finished with 129 points, good for fourth among NFL kickers. His career point total of 397 is the most in NFL history by a player in their first three seasons in the league.

"He's done a good job in the offseason," McCarthy said. "He's outstanding in the strength and conditioning aspect of it. Very technical, he's a professional from that standpoint, and we look for him to have a very productive year."

While the kicking job seems to be set, the punting competition between first-year man Tim Masthay and rookie Chris Bryan is wide open and expected to be decided during the preseason.

"Frankly, I want to see both Tim and Chris punt in games," McCarthy said. "I think they have both done some very impressive things statistically through the workouts, through the practices. They both have a different dimension. They are different, obviously right-footed and left-footed.

"I think it is going to be a very good competition. I definitely like the talent level of both the punters and we'll definitely go into training camp and let these guys slug it out."
Whoever wins the punting competition will also be in the mix at holder. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn also has experience there, handling the holding duties as a rookie in '08 for the final four games, and for the first 13 games in 2009 before punter Jeremy Kapinos took over down the stretch.

"I'm sure the punting position will play the biggest part in the holding competition," McCarthy said. "Ideally you would like to go with your punter as the holder. Based on our past history obviously (we have) Matt Flynn, and we have some other guys that can do it."

Injury/participation update
Tight end Jermichael Finley was back on the practice field on Wednesday after missing some time last week due to tendinitis in his knee.

McCarthy said he didn't expect any of the players returning from significant injuries to participate in next week's mandatory mini-camp.

"Ted Thompson and Dr. McKenzie met this morning and then I had a long meeting with Ted before practice," McCarthy said. "We're projecting those guys for training camp, so I don't see anybody passing the physical next week in that injury group."

McCarthy confirmed that restricted free agent defensive end Johnny Jolly did sign his tender, but added that Jolly would be excused from next week's mini-camp due to his ongoing legal issue in Houston.

"There's a lot going on, and he needs to focus and make sure he has everything in line," McCarthy said. "These decisions that are going to be made legally will affect every aspect of his life, most importantly his personal life and then his professional life."

Final look
The Packers' mandatory mini-camp practices next Monday and Tuesday will be open to the public, weather permitting. Practice both days will be on Ray Nitschke Field starting at 10:45 a.m.

Murphy on NFL Network
Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy will appear on 'NFL Total Access' on NFL Network on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. CT to discuss the league's labor negotiations.

The show also re-airs at 9 p.m. CT and midnight CT.

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