Camp Preview: Battle at TE

Youngsters Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree and rookies D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor will vie for roster spots in what figures to be a heated battle.

Most teams take three tight ends into the regular season. The Green Bay Packers bucked that trend by keeping four last season.

With the depth on this year's roster, it's easy to make a case for five of them being worthy of spots on the 53-man roster.

Beyond standout Jermichael Finley, 2010 fifth-round pick Andrew Quarless showed some promise in a bigger-than-expected role as a rookie, Tom Crabtree proved to be a tough-as-nails blocker and draft picks were used on Arkansas' D.J. Williams and North Carolina's Ryan Taylor.

When Finley was healthy, the 6-foot-4 Quarless was inactive for two games and held without a catch in 12 total snaps in the other two games. In the other 16 games, Quarless played in at least half of the snaps nine times. Used frequently in a Finley-like role as a flanked-out receiver, Quarless finished the regular season with 21 catches — as many as Finley had in four games. He flashed some playmaking ability with 118 yards after the catch — 10 more than Finley. Used frequently as a de facto fullback by motioning into the backfield, he allowed just one pressure in 50 snaps as a pass protector, according to Pro Football Focus.

Coach Mike McCarthy frequently says the offseason between a player's rookie and second season is the most important time of his career. The lockout deprived Quarless of that opportunity.

"I really was concerned about getting my hands on that playbook," Quarless said during Donald Driver's softball game last month. "When the lockout was off for a day, and I was able to speak to coach (Ben McAdoo), he was ready to give me the playbook, and then the next day, I couldn't speak to him. I was anxious to get my hands on that playbook. That's really what I'm concerned about."

While Quarless was put in position to make plays, Crabtree mostly did the grunt work in his first NFL season. Of his 395 snaps, 239 of them came on running plays. He was a bulldog on the John Kuhn-led drive that closed the Week 4 victory against Detroit, and he pancaked Lawrence Timmons as James Starks gained 8 yards on a third-and-1 that led to the Packers' first touchdown in the Super Bowl. In 63 snaps as a pass blocker, he allowed one sack and two pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.

They'll be pushed by fifth-round pick D.J. Williams, who won the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end as a senior at Arkansas. Insiders said he had the best hands of any tight end in the draft but slid down draft boards because he's only 6-foot-2. He caught 74 percent of the passes thrown his way as a senior. With his pass-catching ability and Finley's uncertain future with free agency looming, it's a safe bet that Williams will make the team. In the seventh round, the Packers grabbed Ryan Taylor, who started just five games in his career at North Carolina. As a senior, he made the only five starts of his career, catching 36 passes. Twenty of those catches came in the final three games — including nine in the bowl game against Tennessee. Taylor's value, however, is on special teams. He was named North Carolina's special teams player of the year as a freshman, sophomore and junior. As a junior, he made 16 tackles on the kickoff team. Given the Packers' troubles blocking on kick returns and covering kicks, Taylor has a good shot at making the team if he shows those skills during the preseason.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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