It didn’t take very long to find out, with Starks taking a handoff from quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Green Bay’s third play from scrimmage on Sunday afternoon against the 49ers. The run only picked up 2 yards, but it helped get rid of some of the jitters that the 23-year-old rookie had coming into his pro debut.
“It felt like two years,” Starks said. “It was a long time, but I was anxious just to get out there and play with my teammates, play with A-Rod. Just the fans here at Lambeau, to finally get to run out there, it was an exciting moment for me. I just took it all in. I was just like an excited little kid out there.
“Whatever was asked of me, I was ready. I prepared well in practice and I was just ready for the opportunity.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after the game that the plan was to get Starks between 8-10 carries against the 49ers, but he finished the afternoon with 18 attempts, matching Brandon Jackson (Week 1, at Philadelphia) for the most by a Green Bay running back in a game this year. Starks recorded 73 yards on his 18 carries (4.1 avg.), the highest yardage total by a Packers rookie running back in his first game since Ralph Earhart posted 78 yards in his debut back on Sept. 17, 1948, at Boston.
“I didn’t know how many carries I was going to receive,” Starks said. “I was just ready for the load. I was always prepared for it. I worked hard in practice. I won’t shy away from it.
“It’s a team effort. The offensive line did a great job, the receivers did a great job, tight ends. The fullbacks did a great job staying square on their defenders and made it a lot easier for me to crease holes. So hats off to them.”
Starks, a sixth-round choice by the Packers this spring, was activated on Nov. 9 after spending the opening nine games of the season on the physically unable to perform list due to a hamstring injury he sustained in a conditioning test at the beginning of training camp. That came on the heels of him missing his entire senior campaign at Buffalo because of an injured shoulder that required surgery.
Despite all the time missed, Starks said he never allowed himself to get frustrated with the long layoff.
“I used it as a positive,” Starks said. “I got better, learned my protections, got healthy, got to know my teammates and learn the offense a lot better.
“I was always prepared for it. I never was looking for the opportunity, but if it was given, I was going to be ready for it. I just kept a good mind about things and worked hard in practice and hard work pays off.”
Starks wasn’t active the past two games at Minnesota and Atlanta as the Packers elected to go with fellow rookie Dimitri Nance as Brandon Jackson’s backup, but Starks said he knew this past Wednesday that his first opportunity would likely come against the 49ers as he also saw time on special teams in practice.
Against the 49ers on Sunday afternoon, Starks carried the ball six times in the first half, picking up 26 yards with his long run a 9-yard pickup on the first play of a second-quarter series that was capped off four plays later with a 57-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to wide receiver Greg Jennings.
The bulk of Starks’ work came on Green Bay’s final series of the game (backup quarterback Matt Flynn ran out the clock with two kneel-downs), a 17-play, 74-yard drive that ate up more than eight and a half minutes and was capped off by a 24-yard Mason Crosby field goal.
Starks carried the ball on nine of those plays, racking up 35 yards, including a game-long 16-yarder that he bounced out to the right. Several of his runs included yardage after contact as Starks fought for an extra yard or two at the end of the play.
“I thought he improved as the game went on,” McCarthy said. “I’m pleased with his individual performance. I’m sure throughout the film study there will be some things we can improve on, pad level, ball security. He did a nice job.
“I thought he performed very well and was very impressed particularly the way he fell forward for 1 or 2 yards on a number of his carries. He’s off to a good start.”