Tom Silverstein and Michael Cohen discuss Clay Matthews' injury status and the Green Bay Packers' running back situation. (Oct. 27, 2016) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - As the rest of the Green Bay Packers ran plays against phantom opponents during Thursday's practice, running back James Starks worked with a trainer on the side of the field.
He jumped rope in intervals of varying length. He threw medicine balls into the ground and then heaved them against a wall. For the 40 or so minutes of practice that were open to the media, Starks worked continuously and uninhibited.
"I’m doing good, doing real good," Starks said after Thursday's practice.
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Starks, the team's No. 2 tailback, is 11 days removed from knee surgery triggered by a torn meniscus. He will not be available for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, and beyond that he described his status as "week to week." But his enthusiasm suggested a potential return is likely to be much sooner than later.
"I can’t give really a day or nothing," Starks said. "I’m healing fast but at the same time, I just take it week to week. Go in there, grind hard, do whatever I’m supposed to do, try to do extra of whatever I’ve got to do, get more treatment, more treatment, more treatment and just keep being consistent and keeping that good positive attitude, helping out everybody."
Prior to tearing his meniscus, Starks had appeared in 40 consecutive games for the Packers dating back to the 2014 regular season. And though his production dipped to disparaging levels so far this year — 24 carries for 48 yards; 1.8 yards per carry — Starks had functioned as a reliable backup for starter Eddie Lacy the last few seasons and enjoyed the best stretch of his career in 2015.
While Lacy's injury was fairly straightforward — he injured his ankle during a game — the circumstances surrounding Starks' problem were fluky. Starks, who was an unrestricted free agent earlier this year, finished the game against the New York Giants on Oct. 9 with no sign of a problem. He carried 12 times for 33 yards.
Starks returned to the facility Monday and took part in a workout on Tuesday. Once again, Starks completed the session without issue.
Shortly thereafter, his knee ballooned.
"I didn’t understand," Starks said. "I didn’t know what was wrong. I could cut, worked out, didn’t feel nothing. It just blew up on me. ... So it’s kind of like, ‘Where did that come from?’
"In some cases (it’s tough) just because I love football and I love playing. But things are going good. We’re taking it week to week, day by day and just trying to get everything good and then I’ll be back before I know it."
Without Starks and without Lacy the Packers have manufactured the running game in different ways. They've converted Ty Montgomery from wide receiver to running back, traded for tailback Knile Davis, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, and promoted undrafted free agent Don Jackson from the practice squad. Even fullback Aaron Ripkowski has received a few carries, though he hardly touched the ball in college at Oklahoma.
The end result against the Chicago Bears was fairly impressive: 23 total carries for 103 total yards and a healthy average of 4.5 yards per carry. Most importantly, the Packers won, 26-10.
"Some years it’s like that," Starks said. "You really can’t predict it. ... Ty has been doing a great job, Rip has been doing a great job, Don and now Knile coming in. Everybody seems to pick up things smoothly, and I think they’re doing a great job."