Lone Veteran Signing Stands Out Among TEs

Wrestler, military man or football player? Matthew Mulligan looks the part for all three. After being "overwhelmed" in OTAs, the new Packers tight end is settling in nicely during training camp. He should provide a physical element to the running game.

Matthew Mulligan is a guy who often suffers from mistaken identity.

Though as a civilian he stands out in a crowd because of his size, football is usually not the first or even the second occupation people associate with him.

"A lot of people actually say when they first meet me," began Mulligan, "they ask me if I'm a professional wrestler or if I'm in the military."

Mulligan's crew cut and thick build – almost as wide as it is long – fit the stereotypes. But in 2013, he hopes to play for the Green Bay Packers.

General manager Ted Thompson made Mulligan the lone veteran free agent signing for the Packers this offseason, completing a one-year deal with the fourth-year tight end in April. (Mulligan was released by the Rams on March 22.)

Mulligan arrived in Green Bay with the reputation of being a physical blocker first and a receiver second. That only has been reinforced in training camp.

"In-line (blocking) is my thing. Coaches know that," said Mulligan. "I'll do whatever they ask me to do. If you're a tight end, you've got to block in space. It's required of you. But I think every tight end has things that better suit him as an individual, and for me, it's definitely being able to get my hands on a guy immediately and try to control him there at the line."

Mulligan is the biggest tight end in the Mike McCarthy era, at least in terms of weight. At 267 pounds, he looks and practices like he belongs with the offensive linemen more than he does the six other tight ends on the roster, who average 249.5 pounds per man.

But the Packers added Mulligan thinking he could handle the multiple assignments and shifts that they demand out of their tight ends. Mulligan essentially takes the place of departed free agent Tom Crabtree (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), who played the role of designated blocker when he came to Green Bay, too. But Crabtree evolved into a threat as a receiver in his last couple of seasons. In 2012, he averaged 25.4 yards on eight catches during the regular season. He also caught three touchdowns, including one on a fake field goal.

In the past two seasons, Mulligan (18 starts in 32 games played) has been thrown at just 18 times (13 catches). Of his 411 offensive snaps with the Rams in 2012, 77.4 percent came in a run or pass blocking role (based on statistics compiled by ProFootballFocus.com). Of his 472 snaps with the New York Jets in 2011, 84.5 percent were in a run or pass blocking role.

Crabtree had similar numbers his first two seasons played in Green Bay, albeit coming in as a rookie and not an experienced free agent. Still, Mulligan said he has had to adapt to new terminology.

"The amount of variations here, to be quite honest when I first got here, was a little overwhelming," said Mulligan. "I've always done those types of things on offense, but they way they worded it and what we can possible do on each play — there can always be a check — that was difficult. I'm not going to lie. But now as we go along, I'm more of a guy that likes to get hands-on, I like to run it. You can teach me what you want in the classroom, but until you let me start running it, it's not going to click as well. Now, I'm feeling like I can really go out there and start to play really fast."

Mulligan, who never played football in high school at Penobscot Valley in Maine because it offered no program, made his biggest jump as a professional last season. Not only did he post his career highs in catches and yards, but he cut his penalties way down from nine (in 2011 with the Jets) to just two. And after giving up three sacks, two hits and five hurries in pass protection in 2011, he allowed just one sack in 2012. He also blocked a punt for the Rams last season against the Washington Redskins in a game in which he caught his first career touchdown.

"I really like what Matt Mulligan has brought to our football team starting with the offseason program," said McCarthy last week. "He's a very professional person, goes about his business the right way, very serious in his approach. He definitely raised the bar in a couple of the groups in the weight room. That was my first impression of him. And then on the field, he's gotten accustomed to how we play on offense and the things that we're doing here compared to St. Louis. I think he's off to a good start."

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com

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