GREEN BAY — Though he completed Sunday's win over the New York Giants, running back James Starks was absent from practice Wednesday due to a knee injury. The issue, according to coach Mike McCarthy, surfaced two days after the game, and it was somewhat unexpected.
"James’ knee just kind of came up after the workouts Tuesday," McCarthy said. "I don’t know exactly where we are there."
The injury alone called into question Starks' availability for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, and his chances of playing were further reduced by a death in the family. McCarthy said Starks is out of town and will not return to Green Bay until Saturday. It means that Starks will have one day of practice at most to test his knee, if he's cleared, as well as wrap his mind around this week's game plan.
Assuming, of course, he returns in time for Saturday's session.
"In respect to James and his family, we’ll answer those questions once we get to that point," McCarthy said when asked if Starks can contribute against the Cowboys.
The potential absence of Starks places greater importance on the injured ankle of starter Eddie Lacy, who dropped out in the third quarter last weekend. Lacy was dressed in pads for practice on Thursday, did some running and worked an individual drill during the portion open to the media.
McCarthy said Lacy assured him that the ankle will be fine.
"That’s what he keeps telling me," McCarthy said. "He had a good day yesterday, we’ll see what he can do today. We’ll get a better idea where he is, but he went through the rehab and so far, so good.
"Frankly Eddie’s health will have a lot to do with what direction we go (against the Cowboys). He’s a featured player in our offense, just stating the obvious."
A possible doomsday scenario might surface if both Lacy and Starks are unable to play. They are the only running backs on the active roster — as of Thursday morning, at least — and without them McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson would need some creativity.
If only one of them is available, there's a chance the Packers could take a risk and roll with what they have. Lacy or Starks would receive the bulk of the carries, and any additional rushes could be divided among wide receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery, fullback Aaron Ripkowski and scrambles by quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The other option is to promote running back Don Jackson from the practice squad, which would require Thompson to cut someone from the 53-man roster. Thompson is already facing the possibility of two cuts in order to restore defensive tackle Mike Pennel and cornerback Demetri Goodson, whose four-game suspension have been fulfilled, and the idea of making three changes in a single week could be a deterrent.
Cornerback Sam Shields (concussion) did not practice Thursday, but wide receiver Randall Cobb (neck) appeared to be doing everything. Cornerback Damarious Randall (groin) was dressed in pads, but stood along the sideline and watched during the portion of practice open to the media.
"Getting better," McCarthy said of Cobb and Randall. "We’ll see where they are."