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Once-forgotten Starks now Packers’ No. 1 RB

The Bears nearly drafted RB James Starks. | Streeter Lecka~Getty Images

The Bears nearly drafted RB James Starks. | Streeter Lecka~Getty Images

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Updated: April 5, 2011 3:55PM

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Rookie running back James Starks was a bit player Jan. 2 when the Packers beat the Bears 10-3 at Lambeau Field.

Now he’s the main man.

Starks, a sixth-round draft pick from Buffalo, gained 20 yards on five carries in the Week 17 game. But after rushing for 123 yards on 23 carries in the Packers’ victory over the Eagles in the wild-card playoffs, Starks is the No. 1 running back. He gained 66 yards on 25 carries against the Falcons last week.

‘‘It’s always hard playing against a great defense and a great line, with safeties that come down,’’ Starks said. ‘‘But it also makes the game fun. Knowing you can compete against the best and seeing how good you are, that’s stuff I like, I thrive on. I look for those opportunities.’’

Starks said he had no hard feelings over being snubbed by the Bears, who told him they were going to draft him in the sixth round, then had to tell him they had changed their mind. The Packers selected him 12 picks later.

‘‘I was thankful, actually, that they thought of me,’’ Starks said. ‘‘Most teams wouldn’t have thought of me in situations like that. I prayed on it. I knew things would fall my way. Now I’m a Green Bay Packer, and I’m lovin’ it.’’

New looks

The Bears gave the Packers something to think about when they had Matt Forte throw out of the wildcat last week. But the Packers one-upped them in the gamesmanship department, using 6-2, 337-pound nose tackle B.J. Raji as a fullback in a goal-line situation against the Falcons. Jon Kuhn, running behind Raji, scored from the 1 for a 14-all tie with the Falcons.

‘‘Frankly, that just came up last week,’’ Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. ‘‘Some of the things we were doing with our inside-run game and our goal- line package, we wanted to improve it, add a wrinkle to it. We felt that formation and matchup was to our benefit, and B.J. did a great job. . . . it was a good wrinkle for us.’’

The Clements saga

Of all the rejections the Bears faced in hiring coordinators in the offseason, McCarthy denying the Bears permission to interview Tom Clements for the offensive coordinator position was the most egregious — because he was denying one of his position coaches an opportunity for a promotion.

It was an awkward subject for McCarthy earlier this season, and he was no more thrilled when it came up again Thursday.

‘‘I don’t know why I have to answer something like that right now,’’ said McCarthy, apparently forgetting that he never wants to talk about it. “I am pro-career advancement with my staff. When a request is made of anybody on our staff, there’s conversations that take place. So Tom and I . . . talked about it, and a decision was made and we moved forward. I think Tom’s very happy in Green Bay.’’

Woodson OK

Cornerback Charles Woodson practiced on a limited basis Thursday, but McCarthy said it’s not a big deal, and Woodson will start Sunday against the Bears. Woodson has been nursing a toe injury through most of the season.

The Packers also reported that left tackle Chad Clifton, who was limited on Wednesday, went through a full practice Thursday, as did reserve cornerback Pat Lee.

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