Packers See Dramatic Turn at Tight End

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Richard Rodgers
High expectations have been set for Rodgers in 2014. Is he the Packers next starting tight end?

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.

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Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.com

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  • Jay Hodgson

    Good article, Jason.

    I can’t wait for training camp to start and the pads to go on so we can see who is a contender and who is a pretender.

    I really hope Rodgers has a great camp. Also, I have high hopes that Colt Lyerla can keep his head straight, because, if he can, he has the potential to be even better than Finley. That’s a big “if” though.

    I think the Packers are in good shape that the tighe end position. We’ll probably see Quarless start at the y-end position, and probably some H-back. That leaves Rodgers and Lyerla to duke it out for the jumbo slot.

    • Big T

      I would like to see them convert Lyerla to ILB. Thats the type of attitude we need at that position.

    • marpag

      I’m not really disagreeing with anything you say, Jay, but I don’t really see it so much as “This guy is your Y-end and that guy is your jumbo.” In my opinion, if a jumbo is to be truly effective, he needs to be a credible Y-end as well. Which means that Rodgers and Lyerla need to be able to block, and to get off the line against the big boys.

      I understand that there are some players who are such physical freaks that their very presence on the field makes for a mismatch. They can outmuscle corners and safeties, and can outrun linebackers. With the possible …. maaaaaybee … exception of Lyerla, I don’t think we have one of those guys on the roster. Finley was pretty close. Would you dub Finley a jumbo? A Y-end? Not really either, but he could do both. And that’s why he was a matchup problem.

      Again, in my opinion, the big advantage of today’s multidimensional TEs is that when the defensive huddle is trying to match up with your personnel, they don’t know if your all-everything TE is going to line up in-line, as an H-back, split wide, or worse yet, flex out just before the snap. This uncertainty allows for schematic mismatches in addition to physical ones.

      If your ‘jumbo’ can’t play Y, he’s not much better than a big, slow WR who can outmuscle a few guys. It’s tough to make a living off of that.

      • Logan

        Big TE is why we shoulda picked Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas at 6’6″ and 269 lbs. Niklas went to AZ – keep an eye on that dude – I think we missed a gem there, but, I’m just a Rocket Scientist, so.

      • Jay Hodgson

        I agree with what you say. They all have to play all three TE positions and be interchangeable.

        I guess I was just thinking out loud what we might see this season as Lyerla and Rodgers learn the system, grow into their bodies, and develop.

        I doubt we’ll ever see Quarless as the jumbo, but we may at times see Lyerla and Rodgers. As you said, Lyerla and Rodgers must also play the y and H. You are correct.

  • Big T

    Rodgers over the middle to Rodgers, Touchdown! Rodgers to Rodgers for the touchdown. We now have a batman and robin type duo…

  • dobber

    “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.”

    Amen.

  • Since ’61

    Regardless of who emerges as our starting TE, their performance should be enhanced by Lacy’s presence. Play action to Lacy will force LBs to move up and respect the run. This will open up the field for short passing game to the TEs. With Rodgers quick release we can have pitch and catch with TEs especially in short yardage and goal line. We have won without Finley before and I am confident that we will continue to do so. Go Pack Go. Thanks, Since ’61

    • Jay Hodgson

      Spot on. Defenses like to sit in 2 man against the Packers. A good running game will get them out of that, which then also frees up space for the TE.

      For example, the cover 3 is a decent defense against both run and pass. If the D rolls that out, the sail route should be open all day. I’d love to see the return of the sail route to the Packers’ O.

  • Stroh

    Receivers in the Packers offense have a lot to digest. Rodgers is talented but I’m putting my money (figuratively) on Bostic or Quarless to start at TE this year. Rodgers could easily be ready to start in his 2nd season. I think its asking a little too much for him to be the starter as a rookie and I just don’t think it’ll happen. Coaches tend to stick w/ guy they know will not make mistakes and be where they are supposed to or run the route they are supposed to.

    In ’10 the offense was very much Finley-centric, but when he got hurt that year and McCarthy had to scrap a large chunk of his playbook he learned a lesson and started spreading the wealth a lot more. That was the last time Finley was a focal point of the offense, its been very much a spread it around offense since then.

  • marpag

    I just hit “Ctrl+F”, did a search on this page, and found that the word “block” did not appear. Anywhere. It doesn’t really surprise me anymore.

    But it’s a big deal, and some TE on the Packers roster needs to step up and prove that he can do it. People can say, “Well, it’s a passing league now, you know” … and yeah, there is some truth to that, but I’m pretty sure that most passing formations feature a good number of blockers, too. And if we’re going to increase our emphasis on Lacy and the run, then having a TE who can do a credible job of blocking is a must.

    Recent Packers TEs have stunk as blockers. Late last season, Quarless seemed to get at least a glimmer of a clue about blocking, but he still wasn’t truly good, and he was utterly abysmal before that.

    When we talk about which guy is going to start at TE for the Packers, the answer may have as much to do with “Which guy can figure out how to block” as it does with “which guy can stretch the D?”

    • mike

      I agree with the guy above. You gotta be able to block for lacy.

      also I’m sorry I gave it a thumbs down. I have fat thumbs and meant to give it a thumbs up but my real life thumb is apparently to fat to select the right thumb.

      thumb.

      • marpag

        LOL. Good thing I don’t worry too much about the “thumbs down.” On this board, if there are a bunch of thumbs down, it just means that the post was written by Big T or Stroh, the specific content of it notwithstanding.

  • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

    Good article Jason.

    But I do have to say – I’d be shocked if we got anything meaningful out of either Rodgers or Lyerla this year. Rookie TEs rarely do anything. Even Graham and Gronk were just OK their first year. TE is a complex position that takes a lot of strength to play in line and block, and speed, route running ability, good hands, and smarts to understand all these simultaneous roles.

    We’re probably going to have to deal with Bostick and Quarless this year and hope the young guys grow into their roles for year 2/3.

    • Stroh

      Wuth Quarless it might be a bit ho hum but if Bostic is starting it means he took a big step up an he might own it for awhile. Everyone is excited to see Lyerla and Rodgers but Bostic is very talented as well. His measurable are very close to Lyerla’s. He improved his blocking a lot last year.

      If he starts this year he could very easily be the TE of the future. Dont count him out… this year is his chance to take the TE job and own it.

  • http://WWW.HAGENSONSTV.COM HawgNSonsTV

    Lyerla IS THE DARK HORSE! – I’m going ALL IN on Colt!

    • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

      I didn’t drag Lyerla into this particular discussion on purpose because we haven’t seen any of him in pads. He adds another dimension to this competition, but I am cautiously optimistic with him at this point.

  • LyerlaStoleMyBike

    With the options we have at TE, I’m pretty sure our 5-wide formations will feature 5 WR instead of 4 WR & 1 TE. This will provide our young WRs plenty of chance to show what they’ve got!

    • Steve Cheez

      Love the name, LSMB!

  • Nopainnogain

    I’m glad to hear Rodgers has looked good over the spring, especially after hearing all the belly-aching from worry-warts after the draft. Hopefully he continues to improve when the pads come on. Even if the tight ends struggle, the receivers are more than good enough to make up for it. they won the superbowl with the Crabtree/Quarless/Lee TE combo and still finished the year top-5 in passing even though Finley missed 3/4 of the season. this year’s wr group seems just as good as that one.

  • Tim

    I’m excited as hell with the team and the TE propects. And I’m ok with Quarless starting. We’ved been in much worse shape. I might be stuck in the past as far as assessing our current team, but I always go back in time to think of really lean times as a packer fan, it makes me appreciate the riches we have now. I remember going into many seasons with guy like…ed west – great blocker on a team with no decent running game, hands of stone. Lets see, …bubba franks – the a.j.hawk of tight ends. Even Finley – showed flashes of brilliance but prone to injury, prone to drops and prone to going into a funk. We’ve had great ones, but have done really well with ok tight ends too. There’s only one football to play with, Aaron Rodgers is as good as anyone EVER getting it to his teammates, and the packers are loaded with guys I’d love to see running with it in their hands. Another season getting closer, Go pack.

  • Shavager

    Taking a player that was orginally a WR, making him a 3rd round pick and potential starting TE is a long shot for Rodgers. He produced 2 TD’s in his entire college career. It’s obvious, had Lyerla not had problems and dropped out of college, he would’ve been a higher pick than Rodgers and likely one of top two/three taken. It’s past time to forget about Lyerla pre-GB signing, he produces on the field or not, that’s what McCarthy/Thompson are looking for. Right now I’d bet on Lyerla being the better talent between the two and both having a shot at replacing Finley in this lineup. Quarless may be starter in camp, don’t know if he can hold down the job vs. Bostick, Rodgers and Lyerla. TE depth could come down to Lyerla and Bostick, Ryan Taylor depending on whether Pack goes with just 4 or keeps 5, I’d bet on 5 right now.