There’s two weeks left of training camp to right the ship, but as things currently stand, the tight end position in Green Bay is a mess beyond Jermichael Finley.
No doubt about it, Finley has been everything the Packers could have hoped for and more as the start of the season dawned in 2013.
Finley’s been a humble, hard worker that’s avoided headlines in the media by cutting back on his outspoken nature. Even more importantly, he’s been a solid playmaking force, both in practice and through two preseason games.
This past Saturday’s contest against the St. Louis Rams represents Finley’s high-water mark when he led the team with 78 receiving yards on four receptions, three of them converted into first downs.
Finley looked to be a security blanket for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which has become all the more important in the absence of wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, both of whom have been sidelined by injuries.
For sure, Finley will have to continue his string of solid play into the regular season and curb the drops that have plagued him in recent years if he’s to prove he’s truly emerging as one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
No matter how Finley performs, however, the situation behind him on the depth chart is murky at best.
To be fair, injuries are partially to blame. Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor and Matthew Mulligan have all been limited to one extent or another by various ailments since camp opened.
But injuries also can’t be used as an excuse. The backup tight ends on the Packers roster simply aren’t getting the job done.
It’s a far cry from the start of the 2011 season when the Packers surprisingly kept five ends on their 53-man roster. To go along with Finley, Quarless was emerging in his second season, D.J. Williams and Taylor were promising young rookies and Tom Crabtree was the jack of all trades, filling any role asked of him.
To carry any more than three or possibly four tight ends in 2013 would be wasteful, considering that apart from Finley, none have yet proven to be anything more than fringe NFL players.
Since 2011, Crabtree left the team as a free agent this offseason, and Matthew Mulligan was signed in his place to take over the role as primary blocking tight end.
Mulligan would figure to be a lock for a roster spot, although his current elbow injury suffered during the second preseason game throws his immediate status in doubt. Mike McCarthy has only said Mulligan will be “challenged” to play the third preseason game against the Seahawks, but has declined to say anything beyond that.
When healthy, Quarless might be the most complete tight end on the roster, but he’s been riddled with injuries dating back to when he tore the ACL and MCL in his knee in December of 2011 and forced him to miss than more than an entire season of football.
A recent quad injury only set Quarless back further and prevented him from playing in the Packers’ first two preseason games. He returned to practice this week, not a moment too late.
Time is running out for Quarless to prove he’s not only healthy but also a better option than the other tight ends on the roster, which has not exactly been an imposing group.
D.J. Williams is now entering his third year in the NFL with only nine career receptions to his name. He’s gained a reputation for putting together impressive training camps, but his success has not translated to the regular season.
In Saturday’s Rams game, Williams failed to haul in a downfield pass from quarterback Graham Harrell and also missed a block on the field goal protection unit that led to a partially blocked kick.
Williams may have developed into a better blocker than most would expect out of a 6-2, 245 lb. tight end, but he still can’t be considered a plus-blocker amongst his peers.
Taylor has made the Packers’ roster for two consecutive seasons thanks primarily to his role on special teams, but he too has underwhelmed on offense with only one reception in each of 2011 and 2012.
Like Quarless, Taylor also missed the first two preseason games this season with a knee injury, but he’s returned to practice and would seem to be ready for a return to a game environment once again.
There’s only so many roster spots that will be set aside for special teams demons, and in order to stick around, Taylor has to prove he’s improved on the offensive side of the football over the past three years, something he has yet to show.
After hauling in three passes in the most recent exhibition game, Brandon Bostick is trending upward, and the Packers probably want to show they didn’t keep him on the practice squad for an entire season for nothing.
But at this point in his development, Bostick would appear to be a poor man’s Jermichael Finley who can excel as a receiver but not necessarily as a blocker. As long as Finley is around to fill a similar role, however, it’s doubtful Bostick would ever see much playing time in the regular season.
The Packers may not want to lose him, but it’s difficult to keep a player on the roster who doesn’t figure to see much playing time and is not a core special teams player. The practice squad could be an option for Bostick for a second consecutive season.
Jake Stoneburner also might be heading in the right direction, but it’s important to note that he’s made exactly one impressive play as a professional football player when he grabbed a touchdown in the Rams game. It’s doubtful he’s ready to make the 53-man roster at this point in his career, but he too might be kept around for some extra seasoning.
With only four more practices and two more games left before the Packers are required to trim their roster to 53 players by Aug. 31, time is of the essence for the team’s tight ends to start turning heads.
There’s seven tight ends in Green Bay right now, a number that could be more than cut in half if they fail to impress.
This column is an extension of post from Sunday, evaluating each position on the Packers roster.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email email@example.com.