The tight end position has been an interesting one for the Packers over the past year. Last year, the team decided to carry 5 active TE's on their roster. Part of the reason was that Head Coach McCarthy has stated that he likes the tight end-type player on special teams. Ryan Taylor played mostly on special teams last year as a rookie and did well, adding some validity to that theory. Back from the previous season were incumbent starter Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree. Another rookie joining Taylor on the squad was rookie and 2011 5th rounder DJ Williams. Finley was coming off a shortened 2010 season due to a knee injury that was healing slowly and was set back by a staph infection. The big question was whether he would reach the potential that was expected of him following a solid 2009 season. Sporadic is the best term I can use to describe JF's 2011. He had a great showing in week 3 at Chicago with 3 TD catches. Many thought that was his breakout game and he would catch fire from there. However, he continued to struggle with drops throughout the year while making the occasional great catch for a score or at a crucial point in a game. He had a nifty back shoulder TD grab in last year's game at San Diego, one I was fortunate enough to have happen right in front of me. He also had that crucial 4th quarter catch with the defender draped all over him against the Giants in NY. Finley's biggest knock is consistency and concentration. He has acknowledged this himself and vows to get it corrected. He has emerged as one of the leaders on this Packers team and has coined the term "YOTTO" which stands for Year of the Takeover. The Pack didn't quite complete their takeover last year and Finley, having just signed a new 2 year deal with the team, needs to come out like a man possessed in 2012. The Packers need some big numbers from him in order to succeed and open up opportunities for the wide receivers. Barring injury, Finley will be the team's #1 tight end this year. The expectations are high and it's fair to say that this is a crucial year for JF to define who he is as a player. Another subpar season in which he struggles will start rumblings about whether he is just an extraordinary talent who is overrated. A stellar season will elevate him into the discussion with the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis.
Last year's backup tight end was Andrew Quarless who suffered a gruesome knee injury in that December game at New York. It's an injury that he is still recovering from and that caused him to fail his initial physical exam this past week at the start of training camp. Because it happened so late in the year and the rehab typically takes up to 12 months, Quarless will almost certainly be on the PUP list when the season begins. This means he will miss at least the first 6 games. Another option under the new rules would be for the team to place him on injured reserve prior to the beginning of the season as their "marquee player" which means he would be eligible to begin practicing with the team as early as week 6 and could be cleared to return and play by week 8. The team will likely see how the rest of training camp plays out before deciding what to do with Quarless. For now, he remains part of the team's plans. This opens up an opportunity for Crabtree, Williams and Taylor. With Quarless out of the picture for now, the team will likely keep all 3 this year. My guess is that DJ Williams will get a long look to be #2 on the depth chart. He's got excellent speed for a tight end and has the intangibles to become a leader on the field. He is a bit undersized and does not come off blocks well. He certainly figures into the team's future plans and will see some time on special teams. He had a nifty catch last season against Atlanta, briefly flashing his ability. Crabtree was a contributor to the team's 2010 playoff run and has been with the team since late 2009 when he was signed to the practice squad after a brief stint on the Chiefs' practice squad. He cracked the active roster in 2010 and has seen quite a bit of action on special teams. He's a solid blocker and has hauled in the few throws that have come his way. He's what they refer to as a lunch pail guy who comes to work hard every day and do what is needed. While not flashy, Crab has proven to be effective on special teams and I foresee him continuing to wear the Green & Gold this year. Taylor had 1 catch last year which went for a touchdown. He was mostly used on special teams and was a standout on kick coverage. If for no other reason, he will remain on the roster to continue to contribute in that role.
This year's TE crop is pretty straight forward and figures to remain as is. What the team does with Quarless and how his recovery progresses is about the only question.
- Jason Perone, @wsb_Jason