Because James Starks emerged for the playoff run, the Green Bay Packers won a Super Bowl without an injured Ryan Grant in 2010.
They’re set to go without Grant again, this time once and for all, as general manager Ted Thompson and the coaching staff have gone all-in on the shaky trio of James Starks, Alex Green and Brandon Saine. Grant, 29, had a team-high 134 carries last season. That’s a lot of slack to pick up for Starks, who got just 19 carries in the final seven games because of an ankle injury, and Green, who is coming off a torn ACL and didn't get on the field for the offseason work.
At fullback, John Kuhn is the overwhelming favorite. Not only is he one of the top short-yardage runners in the game, but he’s the third-best back in ProFootballFocus.com’s three-year pass-blocking efficiency rankings. He shared the third-down role with Starks last season.
RB James Starks (6-2, 218; third year): Starks’ 579 rushing yards was the lowest figure by a Packers season leader since Darick Holmes’ 386 yards in 1998. He’s played in 16 of 32 career regular-season games. He can block, catch and is secure with the ball. Of backs with at least 64 pass-protection snaps last season, Starks was seventh in PFF’s rankings, though his occasional mental lapses have cost the team timeouts and drawn the ire of Aaron Rodgers.
RB Alex Green (6-0, 225; second year): Green, who had four regular-season touches before the ACL tear on Oct. 23, led the nation with an 8.2-yard average at Hawaii in 2010. The question is, can he do all the subtle things? Running the ball is third on the to-do list for the running backs.
RB Brandon Saine (5-11, 220; second year): As an undrafted rookie, he carried 18 times for 69 yards and caught 10 passes for 69 yards. Coaches constantly cite his intelligence and versatility as a three-down player.
RB Marc Tyler (5-11, 226; UDFA): The son of former Pro Bowl running back Wendell Tyler rushed for 568 yards in a controversy-plagued senior season at USC.
RB Du'ane Bennett (5-9, 213; UDFA): Bennett ranks 13th in Minnesota history with 2,126 rushing yards; he scored a 96-yard touchdown on kickoff return vs. Wisconsin. At 5-9, he looks out of place with the Packers' preference for big backs.
FB John Kuhn (6-0, 250; seventh year): Of the nine touchdowns scored by running backs last year, Kuhn was responsible for six of them. He carried 30 times for 78 yards. He’s a jack of all trades but not a great blocker in the run game. Playing frequently on third down the last two seasons, Kuhn hasn’t allowed a sack.
FB Jon Hoese (6-2, 238; first year): Hoese, a former walk-on safety at Minnesota, spent training camp with Green Bay and was signed to the practice squad in December.
FB Nic Cooper (5-10, 249; UDFA): Cooper rushed for 1,808 yards, caught 22 passes for 233 yards and scored 24 total touchdowns to help Winston-Salem State reach the Division II semifinals. If he can block, he could push for a roster spot.
Total: 8. On 2011 opening roster: 4.
Final prediction (4): Starks, Green, Saine and Kuhn.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.