At this time last season, the Green Bay Packers were preparing for training camp and the position battles that would ensue. Tight end was not among them, as they had veteran Jermichael Finley in the fold and the annual talk about his having a “breakout” season was in full swing.
In 2012, Finley had just over 60 catches for two touchdowns. Hardly the kind of numbers you would expect from a guy who was regularly hyped as a focal point in the Packers offense.
Through six games last season, Finley had 25 catches and three touchdowns. He missed most of week three against the Cincinnati Bengals due to a concussion so those stats actually came in just five games.
Finley’s form seemed to look closer to the version we saw in 2009 versus that over the past three seasons. He seemed primed to finally achieve the infamous “p” word that has followed him throughout his career: potential.
That’s when catastrophe struck. Mid-way through their week seven game against the Cleveland Browns, Finley took a shot from Browns safety Tashaun Gipson that left him motionless on the Lambeu Field turf. Finley was taken off the field and immediately to a local medical center for evaluation of his spine. His season was over and the Packers were facing a big loss at the tight end position.
Fast forward to today and we know that Finley has been medically cleared by the surgeon who performed the surgery to fuse his spine. Still, Finley’s future remains a question mark, as no NFL team has cleared him to resume his career and he remains a free agent.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy did speak about Finley during recent organized team activities (OTA’s) and, in essence, said that Finley is a free agent but that he sees him as a Packer and wishes him the best. The known entity that was Finley surely still intrigues the Packers, but I’m one of those in the camp that doubt his return to the team. Not this season or any, for that matter.
Under the assumption that Finley won’t be back, that leaves the Packers in the midst of their search for their next starting tight end. With Finley, the Packers had a piece to their offense that they could feature and build quite a bit of the scheme around. Behind Finley, that’s not so much the case.
Andrew Quarless returned last season after suffering a devastating knee injury in 2011 and missing all of 2012. He caught 32 passes and had two touchdown catches last season. Finley’s numbers didn’t always jump off the page, but Finley the player did to opposing defensive coordinators. With Quarless, defenses could focus more attention on the Packers receivers and the real threats to haul in passes from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Quarless will enter training camp as the starting tight end but he has hardly secured that spot.
Also in the mix is Brandon Bostick, who added in seven catches and a touchdown through the latter half of last season. Bostick has received some attention during this offseason as a guy who needs to make a big jump from last year to this year if he is to entrench himself as part of the Packers’ offense. He needs to shine when the pads come on and the Packers hope he does. He showed some flashes last season when Rodgers was down and rookie backup Scott Tolzien was looking for every young quarterback’s safety valve: the tight end.
During this year’s draft, the Packers selected tight end Richard Rodgers out of Cal with a third round pick that had many analysts and fans scratching their heads. Rodgers wasn’t pegged as a third-round prospect and many felt the Packers reached with that pick. Through OTA’s and mini camp, Rodgers has reportedly made steady progress. McCarthy described him as a “productive”. Aaron Rodgers threw some support at Rodgers as well, which is worth its weight in gold in Green Bay’s offense.
Reports have emerged recently that Richard Rodgers could be in line to be the team’s starting tight end this season. One such report came from ESPN’s Rob Demovsky during a recent mailbag piece. This all comes from offseason work and with zero live action. We have seen many offseason and training camp heroes fade into the sunset once the rubber meets the road and final cut downs are made. Rodgers would have to perform beyond horribly for the team to let a third round pick walk after one training camp, but a starter?
I am not sold on whether that’s a ringing endorsement of Rodgers or if that tells us more of what we need to know about what the Packers have with Quarless and Bostick. We should start finding out in about a month’s time. Injuries can always change everything and with the Packers, we always have to mention that caveat to any position battle.
With the Packers losing receiver James Jones to free agency and counting on a few very young receivers to play a role in the offense, the tight end position is surely one that needs its next rising star as well. It has proven to be one of the major cogs that runs the machine and will need to continue to be that if Green Bay wants to see more of the successes they have over the past several seasons.
What a difference a year makes. The tight end picture is still big right now with a lot more to happen before the Packers announce their final roster and head to Seattle to face the Seahawks in the opener. It also looks much different than most anyone expected it would in June of last year. Such is life in the NFL, and especially in Green Bay. We’ll be keeping an eye on this position battle throughout camp so be sure to check back in for the latest.
UPDATE: Many of you have asked why Colt Lyerla was left out of this discussion. I did so intentionally because he wasn’t with the team last year and he’s an undrafted free agent, albeit a very high-profile one at that. We haven’t seen Lyerla in pads yet so the word “hype” is very apt when talking about how he will factor into the team’s plans this season. I was also trying to avoid Lyerla overload (too late?) And let’s not forget Ryan Taylor, who was also left out because he has not proven to be an integral part of the offense.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: