Getting to know ... Packers RB James Starks

Posted Feb. 05, 2011 @ 3:54 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

DALLAS — For a young guy, James Starks knows his history.

He loves watching other running backs through NFL history and picking up bits and pieces from their styles.

"My (college) RB coach told me to go back and watch some history, learn your history," Starks said. "They even speak about it at the rookie symposium: 'Know your history.' Those guys been through it already, if they're the greats at the position, why not go back and watch what they were doing because you can learn from it?" 

Starks also has learned a new name from NFL history this week: Timmy Smith.

You might remember Smith, the unexpected hero from Super Bowl XXII who rushed for only 126 during the 1987 regular season but broke out in the postseason with 342 rushing yards, including a shocking 204 in the Redskins' Bowl win over the Broncos.

"I definitely have heard his name a lot this week," Starks said.

The comparisons are remarkable. Starks only rushed for 101 yards in three regular-season games but broke out in the playoffs with a 123-yard performance against the Eagles and helped salt away two more wins against the Falcons and Bears with another 140 yards combined.

The difference is that Starks wants to stay relevant. Smith was out of the league by 1990 and never rushed for more than 470 yards in any of his three pro seasons.

"I wanted to come in there and show everybody that I'm a great back," he said.

The Packers really didn't know what they had in Starks when they drafted him in Round Six last year, having missed his entire senior season at the University of Buffalo with a torn labrum. But prior to the injury, some scouts had him rated in the second-to-third-round range. He was big (6-2, 218 pounds) with burst and powerful, driving legs and a notch of speed that couldn't be overlooked.

Starks rehabbed the injury, but a hamstring set back his timetable and he opened the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He made his first appearance since his junior year of college in Week 13 against the 49ers, rushing 18 times for 73 yards. It was an auspicious debut for the rookie who had been a mystery man up until that point.

"We were kidding around before the (49ers game), at practice, 'Geez, we've never seen James Starks get tackled before,'" Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "When you coach in college ... sometimes it's three years before a guy gets on the field. We had never really seen this kid do anything.

"It was a little unique. Kind of a Brave New World, sending him out there. But he has responded well."

His teammates think the affable Starks has come along well, even after a bit of immaturity kept him in Packers head coach Mike McCarthy's dog house for a few weeks after the 49ers game.

"He's a quiet guy," Packers RB John Kuhn said. "But we're getting him out of his shell a little bit. He's humble. He's appreciative of everything he has, and we like that about him."

Added Brandon Jackson: "He's picking up everything well. He's going to be a good player in the future. He's quiet, low-key. He wants to earn his stripes."

Starks might be quiet, but he aims to make some noise. He enjoyed semi-celebrity status during media availability prior to the Super Bowl, but he still feels like he hasn't quite broken out yet.

"I have visualized commentators saying, 'James Starks, who is this kid?' and now just listening to my family say, 'Everybody is saying who is James Starks now?'" he said. "You ask any of my family, and they'll tell you that I called them many a time (and) told them, 'It's OK, they're going to know my name.'"

Starks loves watching backs from Gayle Sayers to Ottis Anderson to Clinton Portis — some graceful, others bruising, but all great — and he has tried to take pieces of their games and add them to his style. "All of those guys had some similar characteristics, and I try to take something from their games to make me a complete back."

Who knows? Maybe one day a young, big back will watch tape of Starks and want to emulate him. Just as long as Starks doesn't become the next Timmy Smith, he'd be fine with that.

"I want to be great," he said, "and I think I can be."