Packers TD machine
Three months after Green Bay coaches let the backup linebacker begin taking snaps at tight end in training camp, Havner has become a bona fide pass catching threat.
Making the most of his increased playing time in the wake of an injury to tight end Jermichael Finley, Havner has caught three touchdowns in the Packers’ past two games, tying him with Donald Driver for the team lead.
“All he does is catch touchdowns,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Not bad for a guy whose standout career as a linebacker at UCLA previously led him to nothing more than life on the fringe of the NFL, three separate stints on the Packers’ practice squad.
“I think he has a little more ability than people think he does,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He runs better than people think that he does, and he’s been productive. He’s got very natural hands. You’ve always seen that in his time here. I think he’s definitely someone you could point to as an example of hard work and doing what you’re supposed to do. I’m very proud of him.”
Did Havner ever envision things working out like this?
“No,” Havner said. “I mean, a lot of opportunities have presented themselves to me, and I’m just trying to take advantage of them. It’s been pretty neat. It’s been fun.”
Undrafted out of college and waived by the Washington Redskins just before the start of the 2006 season, the Packers signed Havner to their practice squad. He’d go through the same thing the next two seasons, failing to make the Packers’ active roster coming out of camp and returning to the practice squad.
The life of a practice squad player isn’t glamorous, but Havner’s hidden talent might never have been discovered without it.
Working on the scout team in practice, Havner would help the Packers’ first-string defense prepare for games by running the upcoming opponent’s offensive plays as a tight end. He’d keep making impressive catches in practice, leading coaches and teammates to joke that they should let him play offense.
“He would go over there, and he’d catch everything,” McCarthy said. “He obviously had a natural ability, a knack for playing the position.”
Havner finally made it to the Packers’ active roster last December, playing mainly on special teams in the final four games of last season.
Then what was once a novelty became reality.
McCarthy told Havner during offseason workouts that the team was going to give him a chance to train as a tight end along with his regular linebacker and special teams duties. It meant a lot more work, but Havner never hesitated.
“I wasn’t worried about the work,” Havner said. “It’s worth it to me.”
Havner played tight end and linebacker during his high school career in California, actually drawing some interest from college programs to play offense. But he went to UCLA, playing only linebacker and special teams.
Significant position switches are rare in the NFL, but the Packers actually have two players who went from defense to offense: Korey Hall was a linebacker at Boise State, but the Packers took him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft and told him right away that they were turning him into a fullback.
Like Havner, Hall never imagined playing offense coming out of college.
“No. Not at all,” Hall said. “I was totally preparing as a linebacker to play in the NFL. It’s just one of those things, you have to play the hand you’re dealt.”
Hall said Havner has done an impressive job making the transition.
“I think everybody’s really happy with the job he’s doing, and he’s really adapted well and picked up the offense,” Hall said. “The tight end position can be a tough spot to learn as far as the playbook goes, just because of all the formations and routes and blocking assignments.”
Havner could get another chance to show off his ability at Tampa Bay on Sunday, as Finley continues to recover from a knee injury and isn’t expected to play.
But for all his newfound notoriety, Havner’s reality-football ability doesn’t necessarily translate to fantasy football. Some of Havner’s friends have added him to their fantasy teams; others have told him their league Web sites still consider him a linebacker.
“They said, ‘I picked you up, I picked you up on my team.’ A bunch of people have,” Havner said. “But then someone was like, ‘Well, you’re on defense.’ I don’t really know. I don’t play it.”