Quarless Off and Rolling After Missing 2012

Andrew Quarless showed flashes of his potential during a tight end screen at Tuesday's OTA practice. Quarless, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, stayed involved mentally and looks back to form physically.

Andrew Quarless caught a screen pass and ran right through the heart of the Green Bay Packers' defense.

"I'm just thankful to be out there," a smiling Quarless said of that play following Tuesday's organized team activities practice in the Don Hutson Center. "It's good to have A-Rod hitting me and looking for me and stuff like that, so I'm just thankful. Full-fledged, everything forward right now."

Quarless suffered a devastating knee injury late in the 2011 season and never got on the field in 2012. He started training camp on the physically unable to perform list, was activated on Nov. 7 and practiced for a few weeks before going on season-ending injured reserve on Dec. 1.

"That was probably one of the hardest things to do in my life, to have to sit out and be away from the game," Quarless said. "It just gives you a greater appreciation for everything. It put a chip on my shoulder to have sat out that long, so I'm thankful."

Quarless was one of the unsung heroes of the Super Bowl championship season of 2010, when the rookie fifth-round pick took an injured Jermichael Finley's spot in the lineup. His statistics weren't spectacular — with 21 catches, his full-season total matched Finley's from four-plus games. But he provided field-stretching ability and developed as a blocker throughout the season.

In 2011, Quarless caught just three passes but had emerged with Tom Crabtree as the best blockers among the tight ends. With Quarless in 2011, James Starks averaged 4.3 yards per rush and Ryan Grant 4.2. Without Quarless in 2012, Starks averaged 3.6, Cedric Benson 3.5 and Alex Green 3.4.

"Growing up, I kind of enjoyed the contact," Quarless said. "That's one of the reasons I play football. I enjoy the contact. Anyway I can utilize my skills like that, I'm all for it. I'm definitely ready to step up and take the challenge."

Quarless said he could have tried to help the team last season, if necessary, but the knee just wasn't healthy. There were times he felt like he was letting the team down.

In retrospect, he said the team made the right decision and he'll be a better player because of it. He stayed involved as the person in charge of creating the weekly game plan tests given to the tight ends.

"I think it made me strong as a person, first," Quarless said. "It was one of the hardest things to be away from football — just be out there and not make a contribution and help my team. I'm a big team player so it was just really tough, but it gave me a greater appreciation for this game and also life. It made me a stronger person plus a player."

Having missed last season, Quarless targeted getting on the field during these OTAs. Tuesday's big play — against a defense not allowed to hit, it's worth noting — showed hints of his size and explosion. Coach Mike McCarthy, acknowledging the team's cautious approach to bringing back injured players, said Quarless is "probably moving better" now than before the injury.

"Clearly the best shape he's been in since he's been a Green Bay Packer," McCarthy said. "I would like to think he's fully past his injury. Sometimes it takes a full year-and-a-half to do that. He looks really good. He spends a lot of extra time here. He has done an excellent job in the area of strength and conditioning and nutrition, so I really look for him to make an impact and definitely give us that player that we all felt that he was coming on there at the end of his rookie year. He's the one guy that has shown the ability to play on the line and off the line and we're challenging the other tight ends to do so. He can clearly play all four positions for us in the tight end playbook, so he looks good."

In one regard, Quarless has a golden opportunity in front of him. Finley is entering the final year of his contract, Crabtree signed with Tampa Bay, and neither D.J. Williams nor Ryan Taylor have shown much as tight ends. On the other hand, the Packers replaced Crabtree with Matthew Mulligan, one of the better blocking tight ends in the game. Plus, there are high hopes for first-year player Brandon Bostick, and undrafted rookie Jake Stoneburner has flashed explosive potential.

Quarless, however, isn't concerned with any of that.

"My goal for this season is really just to prove to myself I can get back out there and do it," he said. "I do want to be the best tight end to play the game but first I've got to take little steps and just get back out there. I don't want to rush it too much but I definitely have high expectations for myself. But again, I just need to get back out there and prove to myself I can really get out there and do it again."

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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