In a recent article, Tex talked about why Andrew Quarless needs a big off-season. After suffering a gruesome knee injury against the Giants in 2011, the six-foot-four tight end was never able to fully recover and contribute in 2012. Now with a clean bill of health and a full off-season to get back into game-shape, Quarless is poised to be a key contributor for the Packers offense in 2013.
Quarless caught 21 passes for 238 yards and one touchdown in 2010 in place of an injured Jermichael Finley, and he showed major strides as a blocker in 2011 as part of the Packers two-tight end sets. Quarless was also a key contributor within the special teams units.
Quarless possesses a combination of size, strength, and hands that gives him the potential to be the most complete tight end on the roster, but will he be the same player when he returns to action after tearing his ACL and MCL in his left knee? Not every player returns from knee injuries like Adrian Peterson, but if Quarless can channel the potential he showed in 2010 and 2011, the Packers may boast a talented 1-2 combination at tight end in 2013.
Quarless' senior highlights at Penn State prove he has the potential to be an above-average player in the Packers' offense. He shows soft hands, sharp route running, and enough burst out of his stance to keep defenses honest in the passing game. He also has enough strength at 252 pounds to provide a powerful presence in the run game.
Quarless seems to be motivated, and determined to get back on the field. In an interview with Packers.com, he says he "feels like he has a knee again", and was so happy to finally be able to run again that "someone was going to have to stop him from running". All these signs point to a focused, healthy, and motivated tight end that is anxious to contribute in 2013.
Quarless will have to battle Matthew Mulligan, Jake Stoneburner, and Brandon Bostick for the No. 2 tight end spot opposite Jermichael Finley, with D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor in the mix as well (even though they usually play more of an H-back role). Quarless is more athletic as a receiving option than Mulligan or Taylor, and has more potential as a run blocker than Williams, Stoneburner, or Bostick. I believe that Quarless will eventually be the No. 2 guy at tight end. It may not be right away, as Quarless needs to get back into the groove of NFL game speed, but his ceiling is much higher than the rest of the tight ends and the fact that he was on the field in Tuesday's OTA practice is a great next step in his recovery.
I expect Mulligan or D.J. Williams to be Quarless' strongest competition, and both may start the season ahead of him on the depth chart. However, don't be surprised if Quarless not only becomes a starter, but a valuable option within the Packers' offense in 2013.