Packer fans, and some media members, love to jump ahead and predict what the final 53 man roster will look like even before we've seen so much as a preseason game.
I'm not one to join in this absurdity, but with one preseason contest in the books, I've been getting a lot of questions about the tight end position and how I see it shaking out. The Packers are obviously deep at the position and could be forced to make some hard choices there.
Over the years, head coach Mike McCarthy has come to use his tight ends in a plethora of ways. From keeping them in the backfield for extra pass protection to lining them up out wide as receivers.
One of the things McCarthy likes to do is play games with defensive coordinators by sending out two tight ends, showing the defense a running formation and then using a play action pass, as seen below:
Notice how Finley is offset from the line of scrimmage. In this instance they are doing that in order to ensure he is able to get out into his route without impediment, but he could just as easily fire into the linebacker in order to block for a running play.
McCarthy is not afraid to go with as many as three tight ends on a single play, where he can either run:
Ted Thompson will keep the 53 best football players on his roster, and if five of them happen to play tight end, so be it. Don't forget, Thompson has not hesitated to keep 10 defensive linemen or, indeed, 3 fullbacks (two years in a row) in the past. Each of those decisions were driven by the fact that the players at those positions were deemed better football players than everything else on offer by the coaches and personnel staff. It will be no different this year with a very talented tight end group.
Of course, injuries could and most likely will play a big part in how these things shake out. That's why projecting 53 man rosters in early August is just silly. Already we've seen Andrew Quarless, Jermichael Finley and Tom Crabtree miss time due to injury. Obviously Finley is safe, but everyone else in that tight end group will be fighting like hell to get back on the field to make their case - that's what Thompson and McCarthy's draft and develop philosophy produces: hungry players eager to perform. Its something fans often lose sight of when talking about players: "Oh, he looks terrible" - not knowing that the player is fighting through the worst pain he's ever felt in his life just to be on the field.
Speaking of Crabtree, I figure this is as good a time as any to address something that has bugged me all year. Whenever commentators or fans speak about him, they always throw in the obligatory "strong blocking tight end" as though there is nothing else to his game. While he'll never be mistaken for the second coming of Tony Gonzalez, Crabtree has better hands than most people give him credit for and is good at adjusting to coverage.
A good example of Crabtree's ability in the passing game can be seen below:
Not bad for a "blocking guy" right? And don't forget his catch in the Super Bowl. It was only a one yard gain but it was a huge catch in the scheme of things, allowing the clock to run as the Packers were leading late. He showed great hands on that play, stretching out and hauling in a pass that Rodgers threw wide.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the Packers draft picks at the position. D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor have impressed since camp began (Williams' pass protection gaff notwithstanding) Taylor in particular has looked like a steal for a player that was taken in the seventh round. He has caught everything thrown at him, has looked like a seasoned pro in blocking drills and did not look overwhelmed in the slightest in his first NFL action from scrimmage on Saturday night. He's also on most of the first units for kick coverage and kick returns, always a good sign for young players trying to stick on the roster.
I'm not saying anyone is a lock after Finley. I am saying that if five out of the six are kept at the position, I would not be surprised at all.
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