The tight end position is very similar to the fullback in Mike McCarthy's offense. Both are required to block first, and catch the ball second. The fullback occasionally has a rush attempt, but there were only 8 such attempts in 2008, all to FB John Kuhn. Starting FB Korey Hall combined with Kuhn to only catch 11 passes last season, compared to 39 receptions by starting TE Donald Lee alone. So while the fullback is truly a blocking position, the tight end does have a role in the passing offense.
But it's usually only as a checkdown receiver. At first, the tight end will stay in to block. But if the primary target isn't open, and the play starts to take a few seconds, the tight end will release the block and turn back to the QB as another receiving option. As the team gets closer to the goal line, it's more likely the tight end will run a route right off the snap and attempt to use his big body to establish position over a smaller defensive back.
I've been hoping the Packers could get more production out of their tight ends throughout the McCarthy era, but he doesn't seem to expect a whole lot from them as receivers, and we shouldn't expect much from them either.
- Donald Lee. He's been the starter for the past two seasons, and been surprisingly productive as a receiver. Since he only caught 10 passes in 2006 as the top backup behind TE Bubba Franks, I wasn't expecting much more than that in 2007. To my surprise, however, he managed to have 48 and 39 receptions in the past two seasons, respectively. He's always been known as a blocking tight end, that's probably how he won the job in the first place, so as long as he keeps blocking and manages to catch the occassional pass, he'll probably remain the starter.
- Jermichael Finley. Although he's entering his second season, it's important to remember he just turned 22 years old. If he had stayed at Texas, and had two more great seasons catching passes from QB Colt McCoy, then he might have been a future 1st round pick. Instead, he was a 3rd round pick in 2008. I'm not really sure how good his blocking is. If it's a problem, then that might be the main thing holding him back. He could become anything from a star to a bust, but we might have to wait until the 2010 season to know for sure.
- Tory Humphrey. The wild card. The starting tight end spot was wide open going into the 2007 season, and it seemed like Humphrey was the front runner. Unfortunately for him, he broke his leg during the summer and missed the entire season. By the time he was healthy again, Lee was established as the starter and Finley was selected in the draft. The Packers didn't offer him a contract back in February, but he resigned a month later after finding no better offers. They'll keep a 3rd tight end on either the 53 man roster or the practice squad, so he has a good chance at sticking around for another season.
- Evan Moore. He got a chance to play last preseason, but took a helmet to his knee during the game in San Francisco and was placed on injured reserve. If he's healthy, he might be tied with Humphrey for the 3rd TE spot.
- Devin Frischknecht. The undrafted rookie might appear to have no chance, but he's got the right size, about 6'3", 250 lbs., that would make him a good fit with the Packers. It looks like he's primarily a blocker, and only had some success as a receiver. He won't have a lot of chances, but if he can get off to a good start in the preseason, he could easily jump ahead of Humphrey and Moore for the 3rd TE spot.