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Cut(s) At Tight End Will Be Tough Decision

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Cut(s) At Tight End Will Be Tough Decision

The Green Bay Packers have five tight ends with a legitimate chance to make the 53-man roster when training camp concludes after the team's final preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Sept. 2.

It's been typical for the Packers, and most NFL teams for that matter, to keep three tight ends when the regular season rolls around. But given the Packers' depth at the position, keeping four is a very likely possibility.

"There is always some flexibility in your final roster in terms of what you have and what you need now to play," said general manager Ted Thompson on Tuesday. "Obviously you have to have a certain number of guys just to be able to get through games and to get through a season, but yeah, there is some flexibility built into our rosters, sure. It’s changed probably every year since I have been here in 2005. I would bet you the roster was a little different every year."

Keeping four tight ends isn't unheard of; the Packers kept four in 2006 with Thompson as general manager when they went with Bubba Franks, Donald Lee, David Martin and Tory Humphrey as they entered the regular season.

There's always a give and take with roster spots. If the Packers keep four tight ends rather than the customary three, there's another position somewhere else on the team that's going to be a man short. Back in '06, the Packers kept four wide receivers to help make up part of the difference.

In head coach Mike McCarthy's offense, tight ends and fullbacks have frequently had similar duties. It's not at all uncommon for tight ends to go in motion into the offensive backfield to share in the blocking duties in the same place a fullback would normally be.

The Packers received a lot of attention (and criticism) for their choice to keep three fullbacks and season ago, and for many reasons, it's a popularly-held belief that they will only keep two this year. For one, many people have a hard time justifying keeping three players at a position that's being phased out of the NFL. And for another, keeping an extra tight end would help make up for the loss.

"When I view offensive personnel, particularly in the perimeter position, the fullback and the tight end position, the way we train our players, there’s a lot of carryover," said McCarthy. "With that, you have eight men fighting for those positions, whether it’s three fullbacks and three tight ends or four tight ends and two fullbacks, however that combination works out."

The up-and-coming Jermichael Finley is a lock to make the team. He's now the unquestioned starter after unseating Donald Lee throughout the course of his breakout '09 season that saw Finley catch 55 passes for 676 yards and five touchdowns.

And even though Lee is no longer considered the starter, he shouldn't be counted out of the tight end equation. Lee has the most experience, has been a reliable red zone target in the past and is probably the best in-line blocker of the group.

Lee did his best to prove he was still a valuable member of the team during Tuesday evening's practice when he caught three touchdown passes over the course of the evening. It wasn't exactly as impressive as catching three touchdown passes in a game, but Lee still impressed.

The most remarkable catch of the evening came on a go-ahead touchdown in a 7-on-7 two minute drill. Lee then caught two more touchdowns in a 11-on-11 red zone drill when he was able to find soft spots in the zone defense.

Lee acknowledged after Tuesday's morning practice that the depth tight end coach Ben McAdoo has to work with is quite striking.

"It's pretty awesome because the guys we have at tight end, everybody's good," said Lee. "I just feel like as long as we're working hard, good things will happen."

Also in the mix is last year's No. 3 tight end Spencer Havner who made the conversion from linebacker. He emerged on the scene a season ago when he was able to find the endzone on four of his seven receptions.

Havner didn't do himself any favors this offseason when he got into a motorcycle accident in which he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving although never charged. But Havner was also one of the team's better special teams players last season, and that will help in his battle to make the roster.

After an up and down offseason that saw fifth-round draft choice Andrew Quarless drop too many passes and struggle keeping up with the veterans during Organized Team Activities and minicamp, the rookie has more than held his own since training camp began.

Perhaps most impressive was the very first 11-on-11 play of training camp back on Saturday when Aaron Rodgers hit Quarless for a completion. It was only a modest gain, but it showed the team already has a level of trust in the young man to trot him out and target him on the first team drill.

And not to be counted out is first-year player Tom Crabtree who spent part of last season on the practice squad. Surprisingly, Crabtree has appeared on the first-string punt return unit on special teams, which shows he is very seriously being considered for a roster spot. He's also shown to be a competitive blocker on offense, and McCarthy even said he has made the most progress out of all the players at the position.

Despite competing with all these young players, Lee has tried to be a mentor and knows the team as a whole will be better if they all improve.

"I try my best to help them out with everything," said Lee. "Anytime they have any questions, I told them just come and talk to me, ask me, and I'll do my best to help them out. I feel like as long as we help each other stick together, this team can go far."

As far as who will make the team, McCarthy made a very good point during his Tuesday morning press conference about skill position personnel groupings.

"Everything we do is based on body type and the ability in those particular assignments and responsibilities that they give us a lot of flexibility, because that’s what you need," said McCarthy. "Once you get to the season, you want to have the weekly flexibility in your game plans because you don’t ever want to go into a game where you’re potentially one injury away from being out of a personnel group. That’s something that is very important in the way we go about game-planning defenses."

It would be nearly impossible for the Packers to keep all five players, but the remainder of the month of August will be an exciting time to watch the tight ends contend for three or, more likely, four jobs.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (24) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bogmon's picture

It truly has been a treat watching the TE's battle the OLB's in blocking drills this camp.
These two positions already stand out as the most exciting and crucial personnel decisions on the team (next to the punters).
There is alot of hunger on both sides.

PackersRS's picture

I don't think the Packers are going to think of it as "keeping 3 FBs, or 4 TEs, or 11 OLs". I believe they'll sort out the players guaranteed for a roster spot, porbably around 45 or so players, and the rest will be determinated by ST value. If Hall and Kuhn bring more ST value than Havner, Lee or Crabree, they'll keep 3 FBs instead of 4 or 5 TEs.

Chris's picture

Keeping "the best special teams player" didn't help much last season though.
Keep the best future prospect, which is probably a 4th TE especially as Lee's contract is up next season.

FITZCORE1252's picture

Lee is going nowhere this year, I would bet on it. J-Fin, Lee, Havner, Quarless. Those are your TE's folks, feel lucky!

Crabtree good luck at your next stop, C-YA.

And to keep the 4th TE, C-YA John Kuhn. Two TT draft picks (Hall, Johnson) vs. a FA... I think Uncle Teddy will keep his own around. Call it a hunch. 8-)

GBP 4 LIFE

CSS's picture

I wonder if it won't necessarily be a matter of position specific talent on offense necessitating the number of players retained at either the TE or FB position, but the critical depth required on the defensive side of the ball to make Capers scheme excel.

I believe they retain depth at the DL/LB position on defense to stay fresh and deep into Capers playbook/looks, thus forcing smaller numbers and more difficult cuts on the offensive side of the ball.

Remember, it's unlikely (I feel) there will be a drop-off offensively, even with a few injuries at skill positions to the offensive output. But if/when rookies Neal/Wilson hit the rookie wall or there's even minimal attrition on the DL/LB this defense will take a huge step back.

Make sense?

Oppy's picture

This is right along the lines of what I was going to add to the discussion.

Everyone keeps on saying "Add a TE, remove a FB" Or, "Only keep 4 WRs, add a TE".

I understand the body type that our FBs/TE's possess is considered to be the type of athletic body that is multi-purpose as far as our coaches are concerned, thus making them attractive to keep around... But with Jolly's absence and many questions as to which young lineman will step up and realize potential, it is entirely possible that we see lowered numbers of TE's and/or FB's and keep more defensive linemen to give them time to mature and fill in the gaps.

Who knows? Maybe TT will shock the world and keep two punters just to piss off the world.

CSS's picture

In a nutshell, I believe you can minimize the ‘skill’ positions on this roster and (barring catastrophic injury) this will still be an explosive offense. The defense needs bodies and depth to stay fresh and maximize Capers playbook/wrinkles. I’m guessing they retain too many on the ‘D’, cutting some good prospects on offense. Again, not ‘position ‘X’ on offense is so talented we over-retain.’
Just a thought….

Tarynfor12's picture

Both Criss and CSS make valid points.

Criss with keeping the best prospect nd based on the OL situation and the fact that Lee's contract is up next year,it would be better to trade Lee at this point.With Jackson a solid blocker and I feel Havner can do fine also and the health and some depth on the OL can justify doing so.

CSS brings up the point that to possibly overload on the offense would be harmful to the defense with the week 10 or about fall off and the extra spot(s) would be more worthy of use there.Trading Lee and gaining a spot on Defense and what we may get for Lee is a point to consider also.

I don't think we will even offer a new deal to Lee nex year and would get nothing so why not at least get him set some where else for something?

Cole's picture

Here's who will make the roster:

Rodgers, Flynn (2)
Grant, Jackson, Porter (3)
Hall, Johnson (2)
Driver, Jennings, Jones, Nelson, Dillon (5)
Quarless, Finley, Lee (3)
Tauscher, Clifton, Bulaga, Spitz, Sitton, Wells, Lang, Colledge, Breno, Newhouse, Dietrich-smith (11)

Raji, Jenkins, Pickett, Neal, Wilson, Wynn (5)
Chillar, Hawk, Barnett, Matthews, Jones, Poppinga, Bishop(7)
Williams, Woodson, Harris, Lee, Underwood, Sheilds (6)
Burnett, Collins, Bigby, Blackmon, Martin (5)

Mathsay, Crosby (2)
Whoever long snapper ?(1)

PackersRS's picture

Brett Goode.

cole's picture

Who is Brett Goode?

CSS's picture

Long snapper

DAWG's picture

MM will cut back on TE and FB and use the crowd WR angle as he did in 08 at times.

DAWG's picture

You ad Fin. to the mix-Danger!

DAWG's picture

Now --we ad Grant--which he sez he's in the best shape of his life, and ad the crowd angle WR and Fin to the mix, and an improved OL, you've got what we call a Shit in your pants offense-Capers, what you got?-Damn this is gonna be fun.

DAWG's picture

hahahahahaha, just had to say that

DAWG's picture

Now thats why BF retired-Coward.

InFact's picture

Good work Brian.

Copy editing, excerpt, below:

You wrote: "It’s been typical for the Packers, and most NFL teams for that matter, to keep three tight ends when the regular season rolls around. But given the Packers’ depth at the position, keeping four is a very likely possibility."

Better:

Like most NFL teams, the Packers keep three tight ends for the regular season. But given the Packers’ depth at the position, keeping four is a possibility.

PackerAaron's picture

Dude, that's so not even close to "better". It's laughable actually...

Shootz's picture

My word, it certainly seems that there are a lot of people who are willing to criticise other people's work, even though the person they are criticising has advanced further in their profession.

Oh, sorry, let me copy edit that.

Gee, everyone's a critic.

dgtalmn's picture

With all of these wonderful predictions, it will be amazing to see who exactly remains. Since I do not see the films and the practices it would be hard to determine who is on fence and who is a lock. But that is what makes this time of year fun!

aussiepacker's picture

could it be possible they only keep one fullback and use havner as one when needed if they want to keep 4 TE or a extra DL body?

FITZCORE1252's picture

Sure.

You watchin' the fights this weekend Aussie?

GBP 4 LIFE

pitts's picture

get rid of lee keep extra full back. we got good blocking full backs and catching ball out of back field. with our line suspects.and to throw out in the flat.i like fullbacks. rock and roll. pitts get it done.

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