James Starks probably has surpassed Alex Green as the Packers’ primary running back, at least until Cedric Benson is back from a sprained foot. The earliest Benson could play is Dec. 9 against Detroit at Lambeau Field.
In the Packers’ last game, against Arizona 1 ˝ weeks ago, Starks averaged only 3.6 yards on 17 carries but showed better instincts and more power in the Packers’ zone-running scheme than Alex Green had as the primary back for the three games before that.
“I think (Starks) has earned it,” said Alex Van Pelt, the Packers’ running backs coach. “I think he was productive when he was in there the last couple of games with limited touches, and he has the most experience of the backs we have right now. I think he’s earned the right to get in there and get some more touches.”
Starks had been the No. 1 back going into training camp but then suffered a severe turf-toe injury in the preseason opener that sidelined him until Week 6 at Houston. He’s averaging 3.5 yards on 25 carries for the season.
“He’s getting back to where he was in camp,” Van Pelt said. “He was doing a nice job in camp. When you miss a lot of reps it’s tough to get that feel and timing back, but through our process of slowly getting him back in, I think we’ve give him an opportunity to get more confidence in himself, starting with scout reps and then go over and get some team reps with the offense, a few touches in one game, more touches in the next game.”
Against the Cardinals, the Packers played Green as the halfback in their no-huddle offense and on obvious passing downs. Starks took the rest of the snaps. The two are likely to share snaps in some way or another again this week against Detroit, though it doesn’t seem as likely they’ll split up roles as distinctly as they did against Arizona.
Also, fullback John Kuhn is back this week after missing the last two games because of a hamstring injury. Kuhn had been the passing-down back before getting hurt and figures to return to that role because he’s the best of the group in blitz pickup.
“(Kuhn) is a safety blanket for Aaron (Rodgers),” Van Pelt said. “They’ve been together, they know the calls, they’re on the same page the majority of the time, so I think Aaron feels comfortable having him back there in pressure (i.e., blitzing) situations. It’s good to get him back in there.”
Benson, who is recovering from a sprained foot, has been on temporary injured reserve since getting injured in the Oct. 7 game at Indianapolis. He can begin practicing six weeks after being placed on temporary IR, which means next week. He’s eligible to play two weeks after that, so at minimum he’s going to miss three more games.