Quarless Provides Production at Tight End

After Jermichael Finley's season-ending injury, the Packers had gotten practically nothing from the tight end position. The last two weeks, however, Andrew Quarless has outperformed two future Hall of Famers and provided a spark to a shorthanded offense.

In the last two games, the Green Bay Packers have faced Hall of Fame-caliber tight ends Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten.

And Andrew Quarless was more productive than both.

Quarless is coming off back-to-back games of six receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown. In the victory over Atlanta, Gonzalez caught three passes (six targets) for 25 yards and a touchdown. Against Dallas, Witten caught four passes (eight targets) for 71 yards and a touchdown. That's seven receptions (14 targets) for 96 yards and two touchdowns compared to 12 catches (13 targets) for 132 yards and two touchdowns.

The production has come out of nowhere and couldn't have come at a better time. Including the Cleveland game, when star tight end Jermichael Finley sustained a season-ending neck injury, Quarless had caught 13 passes (22 targets) for 102 yards and no touchdowns in the previous seven games.

Replacing the injured Finley in 2010, Quarless helped the Packers win the Super Bowl. He sustained a serious knee injury late in 2011 and missed all of 2012. Quarless' goal entering training camp this summer was to not just make the team but be great. For most of the season, Quarless was struggling to attain mediocrity. He was a nonfactor in the passing game and his run blocking – which had become his calling card in 2011 -- wasn't good enough, either.

No one's saying Quarless is destined for greatness, but he's producing and the Packers are winning.

"I mean, the thing about greatness is, I think it's something you just have to keep chasing," Quarless said. "Maybe at the end of my career I can say, or somebody else can say, he was really great, he really was great. But in the meantime, all I can do is just chase that greatness."

Nobody expected Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner to offset all of Finley's lost production. Still, the tight end group had become a liability after Finley's rampaging start to the season. In the seven games spanning the Cleveland game on Oct. 20 and the Detroit game on Nov. 28, the tight ends had contributed 20 catches for 206 yards and a touchdown. In the last two games, led by Quarless, they've caught 16 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

"In general terms, my general feeling was that we're not going to put all the pressure on Andrew to replace Jermichael because no one can replace anyone in that room," said tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot, who was critical of his group heading into the Atlanta game. "Just go out there and do the best job that you can do. That just means going out there every single practice, practicing as hard as you can to simulate as much of a game tempo and game speed that you can. As many reps that we can get, we're going to do that. Just trust in the process. "It's not going to happen like that (snaps his fingers). Everything is a process. We've kind of moved ahead week by week systematically. The worst thing that I could have done as a coach, I believe, is going in that room as soon as Jermichael got hurt and said, ‘OK, who's going to pick up the reins and lead the charge?' All those guys have a role in the room and it just naturally kind of happens that people fall into their roles. Without a particular dynamic, which was Jermichael, we all kind of had to feel it out. Fortunately, in the process, we have guys that are hungry and work hard and want to play and they want to contribute. That's a good problem for me to have."

It's probably no coincidence that the Packers have rallied in back-to-back wins behind Matt Flynn with Flynn finding a rapport with Quarless. They were on the team in 2010 and 2011.

"He's done a good job," Flynn said. "He's a big-bodied guy, good hands, he's really, I feel like he's improved in his route-running since I was here. Just a guy that has stepped up when he needed to."

It's not just Finley's production the Packers hadn't replaced. Randall Cobb was injured one week before Finley. That took away two of the team's four top weapons – plus, arguably, their best run-after-catch performers.

"Man, Quarless has stepped up and played well," receiver James Jones said. "J-Mike, he's one of those tight ends where he can do it all but Quarless was the same way. Everybody forgets the type of player he was before he hurt his knee but he's getting comfortable. He's getting a lot of opportunities to make some plays and he's going out there and making the most of it."

Quarless' performance has a blocker has improved, as well. Two weeks ago, Fontenot – so frustrated by his unit's performance in the run game – had his players watching video of the team's receivers successfully blocking defensive ends.

"Just being in the right place at the right time is no guarantee in the pass game," Fontenot said. "So, that's why I said you can have a much more productive contribution in the run game just because it's much more definitive. When you're at the point of attack, you either win or you don't. When you're back side, you're either cutting off or you're not. At that point, I felt like there were some very specific things that we needed to get better and he's worked very hard at it – and our entire group has. I think that, overall, we're definitely moving in the right direction. Not where we are capable of being, because I think we still have more in us, but we're definitely moving in the right direction."

The Packers need Quarless to continue taking steps in the right direction. Bostick has an injured foot, Taylor is more of a special-teams player and blocker, and Stoneburner has barely played on offense.

"I'm locked in right now," Quarless said. "I'm really on a mission and just ready to help this team win, and it's been helping. Any way I can help this team win is what I'm going to do."

Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.

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.

Packer Report Top Stories