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Starks offers impressive contrast in Packers ground game

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted Dec. 06, 2010 @ 5:07 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

It’s a case of something old (Brandon Jackson), something new (sixth-round rookie James Starks), something borrowed (ex-Falcon Dimitri Nance) and — for at least one day — something blue (all of the Packers players in their retro blue-and brown uniforms against the 49ers).

We’re talking about Green Bay’s continually fluid RB corps, which took on an impressive new look in the Packers’ ultimately convincing 34-16 victory over the Niners at Lambeau Field Sunday, courtesy of Starks, who made a strong impression (18 carries for a team-high 73 yards) in his pro debut.

There are a lot of other positives worth spinning about after the Packers’ latest victory, as well as one negative (DE Cullen Jenkins’ calf injury), all of which we will cover in a few paragraphs. But even with Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings currrently hotter than Saudi Arabia in the dead of summer, the backfield takes center stage in the PFW Packers Spin department.

Making his first appearance on the Packers’ third play from scrimmage, Starks, who had not played in a game since January 2009, spearheaded a strong all-around ground game against San Francisco, as the Packers picked up 136 yards rushing and — unlike in Atlanta — one first down after another.

The PFW Spin

Is Starks the next Ryan Grant, who came out of nowhere well into his first season as a Packer to add an immediate impact of major proportions to Green Bay’s ground game? He certainly has good size (6-2, 218) and fresh legs, and team insiders quietly have been raving about his potential for some time now. But Packers head coach Mike McCarthy appears to be leaning toward a rotation involving all three of his halfbacks (Jackson, Starks and Nance, who missed the last game with a concussion) down the stretch, with Jackson still deservedly being counted on as the No. 1 guy.

That said, should Starks pick up where he left off this Sunday against Detroit, it could be hard not to make him the offense’s primary weapon on the ground the remainder of the season, creating a more effective complement to a Packers passing game that really appears to be firing on all cylinders, with 35-year-old Donald Driver, who was given up for dead before his tackle-breaking, 63-yard run-after-catch TD masterpiece Sunday, apparently re-entering the fray with a flourish.

On the other side of the ball, the situation isn’t nearly as promising now that Jenkins, whose two-sack game against the Niners was his best of the season, could be on the shelf for what probably will be a couple games at a minimum. Jenkins’ sacks against San Francisco moved his total for the season to seven, surpassing his previous season high by half a sack.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has done a fantastic job all season mixing and matching new pieces into the defensive puzzle because of injuries. But figuring out how to replace Jenkins, even if it’s for only a week, figures to test his considerable mettle to the max. Another late-round rookie, C.J. Wilson, could play an important role along those lines. Wilson stepped up earlier this season in place of an injured Ryan Pickett and appears to have what it takes to keep the front line running relatively smoothly, albeit without Jenkins' well-regarded ability to rush the passer.

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