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Packers RB’s sprained knee isn’t a serious injury

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Associated Press
November 22, 2011
— Running back James Starks has a sprained knee and a sore ankle, and the Green Bay Packers aren’t sure if they’ll have him back in time for their Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit.

Starks hurt his knee late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s victory over Tampa Bay. The Packers did not practice Monday, but Starks likely would not have been able to go if they did.


Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the injury isn’t as bad as it appeared to be initially, and is holding out hope that Starks might be able to practice today.


“He tested out well, and he has a chance to possibly do something on the field,”


McCarthy said. “That’s our plan with him.”


Facing a quick turnaround to play a physical Detroit team that beat them at Ford Field late last season, the Packers need a couple of key players to heal up quickly.


Wide receiver Greg Jennings has a bruised knee, but McCarthy said he may be able to practice today. And with left tackle Chad Clifton already out with a hamstring injury, backup Marshall Newhouse has a knee injury, although McCarthy didn’t seem particularly concerned about it.


But Starks might be the biggest injury concern going into Thursday’s game. The Lions have shown an ability to come back from second-half deficits, so if the Packers get the lead, they could use a good running game to work on the clock.


Fellow running back Ryan Grant said Starks is generally in good spirits, a potential indication that he won’t be out for very long.


“I expect him to be OK,” Grant said. “Spirits are always a good bet in general. If a player’s in good spirits, it’s positive.”


With Grant out most of last season with an ankle injury, Starks, a sixth-round draft pick out of Buffalo last year, became a critical part of the Packers’ success late last season. Now he appears to be supplanting Grant as the team’s primary running back.


While Grant has been listed as the starting running back in nine of the Packers’ 10 games this season, Starks is getting more touches. Starks has 120 rushes for 541 yards and 28 catches for 210 yards. Grant has played in one less game because of an injury, and has 73 rushes for 267 yards and eight catches for 69 yards.


After putting together back-to-back seasons of 1,200-plus yards rushing in 2008 and 2009, Grant acknowledged that sharing the load has been a challenging adjustment.


“It’s not easy, but this game isn’t easy, physically or mentally, regardless,” Grant said. “If you play 50 snaps, it’s not easy, so I don’t think that makes it harder. I really don’t. Because you don’t really think about that until the end of the game.”


Lately, the Packers are showing their growing trust in Starks by turning to him late in games.


The Packers leaned heavily on Starks near the end of their Oct. 23 victory at Minnesota. Leading by six points with 2:30 left, the Packers ran Starks six straight times to kill the clock before Aaron Rodgers took a knee to finish the game.


And with Green Bay clinging to a two-point lead in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Starks touched the ball six times on an eight-play, 85-yard scoring drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by John Kuhn. The drive included passes to Starks for gains of 12 and 11 yards, and a 20-yard run to put the Packers in position to score.


Green Bay ended up giving up another touchdown, then put the game away with Rodgers’ 40-yard touchdown heave to Jordy Nelson after Starks was hurt. But the drive earlier in the fourth quarter was a clear picture of Starks’ value to the Packers.


“I thought James was (good) not only running the ball but the checkdowns, which to me is an extension of the run game,” McCarthy said. “He’s making people miss, he’s stepping out of arm tackles. We didn’t have 100 percent clean looks yesterday running the football. But I think James is getting better and stronger, and hopefully he can play this week.”



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