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Starks might be back after 5-game absence

Jan. 9, 2013
 

Running back James Starks might be healthy enough to play for the first time since he sustained a bruise inside his knee in early December and could provide the Packers with a bigger back to attack San Francisco’s strong run defense.

Starks has been out since sustaining the injury Dec. 2 against Minnesota. Last week he did some work with the scout team, and this week he’s started taking snaps with the Packers’ offense, though it’s unclear if he’ll be active or have much of a role in the game plan. DuJuan Harris has become the Packers’ No. 1 back in the last couple of weeks and Ryan Grant has been the No. 2.

The Packers’ coaching staff probably has a decent idea of how they’ll use their backs this week but also determine from practice whether a player such as Starks is ready to play.

“Just trying to mix him in right now,” said Alex Van Pelt, the Packers’ running backs coach. “Still trying to evaluate everybody and see where we are at the end of the week. Felt like after last week on scout team he’s ready to get in there and mix it up with the offense.”

Starks was the Packers’ starting halfback going into training camp but has had a series of injuries that have limited his playing time (71 carries for 255 yards). At 218 pounds, Starks is about 16 pounds heavier than Harris, and at age 26 he’s faster and more athletic than the 30-year-old Grant.

The 49ers have one of the NFL’s better rushing defenses and finished No. 4 in rushing yards allowed. Besides having a good run-stopping defensive line, the 49ers have the best duo of inside linebackers in the league in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, who are both going to the Pro Bowl.

“They remind me of a young (Brian) Urlacher and (Lance) Briggs when they were in their prime defensively (with Chicago),” Van Pelt said.

When the teams played in the regular-season opener, the 49ers held halfback Cedric Benson to 18 yards in nine carries. The only other Packers player with a rush was quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had five scrambles.

“If James is (activated) he’d be a good option for a big back,” Van Pelt said. “Really if you look at the games they’ve gotten run on, it was more offensive-line play, you can see it, it was a very aggressive style up front.”

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Get Green Bay Packers updates as they happen from our reporting team: (from left) Mike Vandermause, Wes Hodkiewicz and Pete Dougherty.

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