Jermichael Finley: The second half of last season was a positive sign for Finley. Unfortunately for the Packers, it's not the first time they've seen positive signs.
In the final seven regular-season games last season, Finley caught 80.0 percent of the passes thrown his way. Take that rate for a full season, and that would have ranked second in the NFL among tight ends who caught more than 30 passes.
Finley and the Packers have been down this road before, though. In 2009, thanks to an excellent second half of the season, Finley caught 77.5 percent of targeted passes. He parlayed that into a dominant start to 2010, when he caught 84.0 percent before a season-ending knee injury early in Week 5.
In 2011, perhaps due to a combination of self-doubt from the injury and his uncertain contract status, Finley ranked 20th with a catch rate of just 60.4 percent. The inconsistent play continued for the first nine games of last season, when he caught 64.4 percent of targeted passes.
So, was the end of 2012 a sign of things to come? Or was it just another Big Tease.
"I thought we came into this offseason a little more confident than we did last year," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. "We still have a long ways to go. We still have things we need to improve on before the season begins. Fortunately, we've put a lot of good work in this offseason."
The big battle
Everyone else: With Finley, the Packers have seven tight ends, and they're all pretty good. That includes Andrew Quarless, who replaced an injured Finley in 2010 and developed into a top blocker in 2011 before sustaining a knee injury that cost him all of last season. If he's healthy, he's the best two-way player on the unit and will have a key role. If he's slow in coming back, his spot on the roster is in jeopardy.
D.J. Williams has developed into a decent on-the-move blocker but has been a major disappointment with just nine catches after a record-setting career at Arkansas. Matthew Mulligan, a rough-and-tumble blocker during stints with the Jets and Rams, should be an upgrade in the run game over the departed Tom Crabtree. Practice-squad holdover Brandon Bostick and undrafted Jake Stoneburner could be threats in the passing game. Ryan Taylor is a core special-teams player.
Jake Stoneburner: Stoneburner caught 53 passes for 714 yards and 13 touchdowns at Ohio State, playing tight end to start his career before moving to receiver as a senior in Urban Meyer's spread attack. Stoneburner, who interviewed with the Packers at the Scouting Combine, ran 4.53 at pro day. He looks like a natural receiver. Can he block? "My junior year, I blocked three first-round defensive ends: J.J. Watt, Adrian Clayborn and (Ryan) Kerrigan," he pointed out.
The long shot
Brandon Bostick: Bostick was a 245-pound wide receiver at Division II Newberry. Now, he said he's up to 260 pounds. He's hoping the added size and strength will make him a better blocker and bolster his chances of making the team. "I have to show them that I can in-line block, show up on special teams, and stretch the field in the offensive game," he said.
The bottom line
The Packers kept five tight ends (Finley, Quarless, Crabtree, Williams and Taylor) in 2011. It certainly wouldn't be out of the question for them to do so again given the talent. If Quarless comes back strong, do the Packers need Mulligan? If Stoneburner or Bostick emerge, do the Packers give up on Williams? Or does Williams earn — and keep — a large role? Is special teams enough for Taylor? Could the Packers keep five tight ends and no fullbacks? If Stoneburner and Bostick have strong camps, it's going to be incredibly difficult to choose the four or five that make the roster. Don't be shocked if all seven players win up on a roster somewhere this season.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.