Inside linebacker A.J. Hawk could return to the field on Sunday after missing one game, but running back James Starks will be sitting this one out.

Hawk returned to practice on a limited basis on Friday for the first time since injuring his calf on Thanksgiving in Detroit, and he is listed as questionable on the injury report for Sunday against Oakland.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy sounded encouraged about Hawk’s chances, and he suggested the coaching staff might discuss a rotation at inside linebacker for the game involving Hawk, D.J. Smith and Robert Francois. Desmond Bishop, who also hurt his calf in Detroit, remains out.

“Everything looked positive,” McCarthy said of Hawk’s recovery. “Dr. McKenzie felt good about A.J. and just the way he progressed throughout the week, so we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”

Hawk had never missed a game in his six-year career, playing in 98 straight (including playoffs) until last week, when Smith and Francois started at the inside linebacker spots. The two backups took the bulk of the snaps in practice again this week, and both likely will play, regardless of Hawk’s status.

“Having A.J. up for the game to me is a bonus,” McCarthy said.

Starks’ absence will provide a chance for Ryan Grant and Brandon Saine to carry the rushing load for a full game. Starks has been bothered by knee and ankle problems that have been re-aggravated in the last two games, shortening his day both times, and he has been declared out after not practicing all week.

Last week’s 13 carries for Grant were his most since he had 17 in Week 3 at Chicago, when he found a rhythm and rushed for a season-high 92 yards. Last week, he gained only 29 yards on those 13 carries, as the Packers tied a season-high with five negative runs, but Grant has always prided himself on getting stronger with more work, and he’s hoping a hefty workload will allow him to re-capture a rhythm of some kind.

“Production-wise, we can definitely do more, but I do feel good,” Grant said. “This is the best I’ve felt. I do feel healthy. All my little nicks that were hurting are no longer hurting. This is one of the best weeks I’ve had feeling-wise, practice-wise, body-wise. I do expect to have a good game.”

Saine will be the second option out of the backfield as he continues his rapid rise up the depth chart. On the practice squad through the bye week, the undrafted rookie from Ohio State was signed to the active roster on Oct. 31 and touched the ball in a game for the first time on Thanksgiving.

McCarthy noted this week how quickly Saine is grasping the pass-protection and blitz pick-up responsibilities. Last week Saine had 10 touches – six rushes and four receptions – and was on the field for the two-minute drives at the end of each half.

“It let me know the coaches have a little bit of confidence in me and think that I can get out there at any point in the game and be able to produce,” said Saine, whose biggest play was a 22-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass late in the second quarter.

“I’m just preparing like any other week and trying to get ready.”

Additional coverage - Dec. 9