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Packers 2016 training camp preview: Jared Cook provides speed to tight-end group

The former Titans and Rams tight end offers a vertical dimension to the Packers' passing attack.

Chicago Bears v St Louis Rams Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers have lacked an athletic, downfield threat at the tight end position since Jermichael Finley suffered a career-ending neck injury in 2013. Finley's void didn't become readily apparent until last season, when the combination of Richard Rodgers, Andrew Quarless and others struggled to exploit the middle of the field and help out their quarterback. Though a true Finley replacement likely remains a year or more away, the Packers may have found a reasonable alternative on the free-agent scrap heap.

Jared Cook, No. 89

6-foot-5, 254 pounds
8th season
College: South Carolina

Once a highly coveted tight end project, Cook washed out of St. Louis following his 39-catch, 481-yard campaign in 2015. The Rams, tiring of his drops an inconsistent play, determined that they couldn't justify keeping him around at his $8.3 million cap hit. That doesn't mean Cook has nothing to offer the Packers, however. His speed remains mostly intact, and even when he runs a poor route or a pass deflects off his hands, opposing defenses have to respect his ability to blaze down the seam. In that way, he can help clear the middle of the field for Green Bay's other pass catchers to take advantage.

Richard Rodgers, No. 82

6-foot-4, 257 pounds
3rd season
College: California

When Richard Rodgers eventually hangs up the cleats, his career highlight will likely originate from the 2015 season. The tight end famously hauled in Aaron Rodgers' 61-yard Hail Mary pass to overcome the Detroit Lions on Thursday Night Football, a victory that kicked off a three-game winning streak that saw the Packers secure their seventh consecutive playoff berth. Still, outside of his big moments, the pass catcher provided little, averaging just 8.8 yards per reception. Rodgers can still play a meaningful role in the offense, but he may cede a significant amount of targets to Cook.

Justin Perillo, No. 80

6-foot-3, 250 pounds
3rd season
College: Maine

The Packers primarily use Justin Perillo as a blocker and special teamer, limited his upside in the offense. That doesn't appear likely to change in 2016, as Cook's arrival makes targets even harder to come by among the tight ends. Still, Perillo can make the 53-man roster again by specializing in the grunt work that got him to the NFL in the first place.

Kennard Backman, No. 86

6-foot-3, 245 pounds
2nd season
College: UAB

Though Kennard Backman's athleticism piqued the Packers interest enough to justify a late-round pick last offseason, it didn't earn the tight end much in the way of on-field work during the regular season. Backman participated sparingly on special teams and even less often on offense. With the de facto red-shirt year behind him, the UAB product must now produce on the field in order to secure another year in Green Bay.

Mitchell Henry, No. 85

6-foot-4, 252 pounds
2nd season
College: Western Kentucky

Mitchell Henry barely missed the Packers' final cut last September, putting together enough quality tape to secure a spot on the Denver Broncos' 53-man roster soon thereafter. However, his Denver tenure ended after a few weeks, with the tight end returning to Green Bay as a practice squader for the remainder of the season. Henry doesn't possess much in the way of elite athleticism, but he has a knack for making plays when called upon.

Casey Pierce, No. 49

6-foot-3, 244 pounds
2nd season
College: Kent State

A longshot entering training camp, Kent State's Casey Pierce hopes to carve out a role in Green Bay as an all-purpose tight end. He moves reasonably well for a big-bodied pass catcher, but his lack of experience -- he spent 2015 on the Lions' practice squad -- could make matters difficult given his competition.

Jason B. Hirschhorn is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and covers the NFL for Sports on Earth and SB Nation. He also serves as the senior writer and editor for Acme Packing Company, a Green Bay Packers blog.