GREEN BAY — If Wednesday’s practice is any indication, the Green Bay Packers might have two key players back much sooner than later.
Tight end Jared Cook (ankle) and running back James Starks (knee) were given a longer leash by the medical staff to test their health in an unpadded session at Clarke Hinkle Field. It was a significant increase in workload after both players were limited to individual drills last week.
“We’re going to put them in, probably, if you want to put it in a classification or category, I’d say limited,” coach Mike McCarthy said before practice. "But we’re going to cut them loose today and then tomorrow’s the padded work, so that’ll be the best indication on where they are.”
The Packers desperately need Cook to return following a six-week absence due to a high-ankle sprain he suffered against Detroit. Opposing teams have been playing lots of man-to-man defense, and without a fast tight end to stress the middle of the field, the Packers’ offense has struggled.
Cook was in his third game as a Packer when he injured his ankle. He has six catches for 53 yards this season.
Starks, meanwhile, could bring stability to a running back situation that resembles a ticket machine at the deli counter. The presence of a traditional running back with legitimate experience and noteworthy production would stabilize not only the rushing attack, but the offense as a whole.
Sans Starks and Eddie Lacy, who is on injured reserve with an ankle problem, McCarthy has been asked to reinvent the wheel to generate some semblance of a running game. In time, a healthy Starks could shoulder the majority of the carries while lessening the burden on Ty Montgomery, Don Jackson and fullback Aaron Ripkowski.
Even if Starks plays, Montgomery would likely be the feature back this week as Starks eases into the offense.
Missing practice for the Packers were: LB Clay Matthews (personal), G T.J. Lang (hip), CB Damarious Randall (groin), C JC Tretter (knee) and NT Letroy Guion (personal).
Randall did some work on the sideline for the first time since his surgery, which is typically the first step in returning to practice. He will be evaluated throughout the week to see how his body responds to increased activity.
“Just kind of going through certain movements, just kind of getting the feel back for it, just seeing how it feels to break and cut and to catch passes,” Randall said after practice. “Just trying to get back in shape.
“I was cutting pretty good. Just kind of getting a feel for it. Just taking it day by day. I’m just glad that everything is going as well as it’s going. I’m just pretty encouraged because it was another productive day.”
For the Titans, running backs DeMarco Murray (foot) and Derrick Henry (calf) did not practice.
Michael Cohen of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.