Green Bay Packers have logjam at tight end
If the Green Bay Packers really have moved on from Jermichael Finley, it’s anyone’s guess who will play tight end for them this season.
Four, five, even six players from the current seven-man depth chart not only have a legitimate chance to make the team but also start.
No position looks to be as wide-open as tight end in Green Bay this summer.
“I think we’ll have good depth,” said Tom Clements, the offensive coordinator. “It’s a good, solid group. Hopefully, they’ll get better and we’ll get a starter in there.”
Once Finley established himself in 2009, his second season, the Packers had their most athletic tight end since Keith Jackson.
Finley never made the Pro Bowl in his six seasons, something Bubba Franks did in 2001 and ‘02. Despite his weak blocking, erratic catching (29 drops) and unpredictable behavior, he was a weapon that defenses couldn’t ignore.
On Nov. 14, Finley underwent fusion surgery to repair a cervical contusion after being injured in Game 6. He also suffered a concussion in September and missed 18 games in 2009-’10 with knee injuries.
Given the many variables with Finley both as a player and as a person, the Packers made a prudent decision in February 2012 by signing Finley to a short-term (two years, $14 million) contract. So now they’re off the hook financially.
Finley, who reportedly would collect $10 million tax-free from an insurance policy if he can’t play, repeatedly has said he wants to play. The Packers and Seattle Seahawks met in the off-season with Finley, who is a free agent.
It remains to be seen if the medical staff for any team would clear Finley to resume his career.
Meanwhile, the Packers made three moves in the last four months designed in part for football after Finley:
Resigning Andrew Quarless for two years at $3 million.
Drafting Richard Rodgers in the third round, a round or two earlier than some teams had him graded.
Signing Colt Lyerla, regarded as a major character risk by many teams, to a rookie free-agent contract.
Together with holdovers Brandon Bostick, Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner, those six players will try to provide the vertical receiving dimension that left with Finley.
“They need somebody to control and occupy the middle of the field,” an executive in personnel for an NFL team said. “You either do that with a tight end or with a pass-receiving back.
“Right now, they’ve got a bulldozer (Eddie Lacy) back there. So they need somebody to occupy those safeties.”
Perhaps the most impressive tight end this spring was Rodgers, partially because Quarless didn’t practice presumably because of injury and an out-of-shape Bostick didn’t return from a broken foot until mid-June.
“He has natural hands and catches the ball real well,” said Clements. “He’s smart, has good size and has put on a lot of weight, which he feels comfortable about.”
The son of Carolina Panthers assistant coach Richard Sr., Rodgers made some one-handed catches and looked the part, at least in helmets and shorts.
“Even though he ran 4.87 he still has fluidity in his movement,” an NFL personnel director said. “He’s got great hands and understands what professionalism is all about. He’s an OK blocker, not great.
“The pick was based off need. Ted (Thompson) had to do it, and he did.”
That executive said he doubted Rodgers would beat out Quarless for the No. 1 job but expects him to fight for extensive early playing time.
Quarless took the lion’s share of Finley’s snaps a year ago and did enough to warrant a modest $350,000 in guaranteed money.
“I’m not going to make an assessment on him,” said Clements. “We’ve critiqued him. He’s been through the critique. He knows where he has to improve and he knows what he did well. We’re looking to get better overall.”
A five-year veteran, Quarless caught the ball reasonably well two years after suffering a devastating knee injury and was adequate after the catch. His run blocking was borderline awful.
“I see him as a No. 2,” an NFC North personnel man said. “He’s not a good in-line blocker. He’s better in space. His overall effort can be up and down. I don’t think he’s the most physically tough guy or the strongest guy at the point of attack.”
Bostick, a wide receiver in college, made strides as a blocker in his second season but still wasn’t as effective in that area as Taylor or Quarless, according to position coach Jerry Fontenot.
“Initially, he kind of got pushed around a little bit, but he’s gotten more physical,” Clements said. “Hopefully, he makes a big jump this year. If he can continue to improve he has a good chance.”
The Packers invested two years of developmental time in Bostick because he’s fast (4.61 40-yard dash) and, not unlike Finley, can threaten the seam. His mannerisms resemble Finley’s.
“Athletically, he’s got it now,” said coach Mike McCarthy. “He’s a gifted young man. And he showed toughness blocking, too — not consistently.”
Taylor lacks the size to confront defensive ends on a steady basis but Fontenot did call him the team’s best blocking tight end in 2013.
“Obviously, size is probably the biggest (negative) factor as far as him being able to muscle his way around the field to get open and be visible to the quarterback,” Fontenot said. “He does run routes pretty well.
“He plays hard. We know that about him. He brings that every single day.”
Stoneburner’s 4.61 speed, keen intelligence and solid overall athleticism haven’t yet been reflected in his play.
Lyerla probably is the fastest of the candidates and the greatest unknown. Some teams regarded Lyerla as untrustworthy and refused even to consider bringing him to camp.
Despite blocking deficiencies, Lyerla made his share of explosive gains for the prolific Oregon Ducks.
“Lot of physical ability,” said Clements. “He can run very well. Good size.”