Battle No. 1: Everything is up for grabs
Unless Jermichael Finley is re-signed, no spot is secure on the depth chart.
Andrew Quarless is the best bet to be the team’s every-down tight end. Then again, it’s not a given he makes the team.
With his athleticism, Brandon Bostick might be the year’s breakout star. Or, he might be nothing more than a tease again.
Richard Rodgers could go from third-round pick to No. 1 tight end.
Colt Lylera could be an impact player. Or he could be just the smallest of footnotes in franchise history.
“Yeah, I think that we are pretty wide open at this point,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said during the minicamp. “I think that guys have shown some progress and those guys warrant a much bigger look. Once we get to training camp, we’ll kind of have an idea of what the rotation will be and how we give guys reps.”
The one guy that will “warrant a much bigger look” will be Rodgers, who was probably the team’s most impressive rookie during the offseason workouts. Of course, the offseason workouts aren’t in full pads and they don’t include contact, so it’s easy to make a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to player evaluation. With the ninth-fastest 40-yard time out of the 10 tight ends drafted, can he create separation in the passing game? Can he block a 280-pound defensive end after the coaches at Cal were forced to turn to other players to do the dirty work?
“Richard is a pretty balanced player,” Fontenot said. “What I saw on tape is exactly what we got. He’s very efficient with his footwork, he’s very efficient moving; he doesn’t waste a lot of motion. He’s very smart, he does pick up things relatively quickly. He works very hard. I like what I see so far. It will be fun to get the pads on to see how he handles things physically.”
Another player worthy of added opportunities is Bostick. The former Division II receiver flashed periodically last season, with three of his seven receptions going for at least 20 yards. However, while Fontenot was complimentary of Bostick’s effort, he didn’t perform consistently enough to merit more playing time last season, and late-season foot surgery cost him the start of the offseason workouts. Can he block? Can he be at the right place at the right time in the passing game?
“Last year, I was more focused on making the team and doing the little stuff. Now, I’m focused on I want to be the starter,” Bostick said. “I want to be that guy. Everything I’m doing right now I want to be the starter. I’m trying to make plays every time I’m out there and trying to be consistent.”
Quarless had a decent season, considering he missed all of 2012 due to the broken leg sustained late in 2011. He caught 32 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns. Of those, 28 catches for 284 yards and both touchdowns came in the 10 games after Finley’s injury. He caught the ball well but was only OK after the catch and as a blocker. After the season, Fontenot told Quarless he needed to become more of a finisher. He re-signed in free agency with a two-year deal worth $3 million.
“I see a guy who has a lot more in the tank and can give a lot more to this team,” Fontenot said. “I’m excited about having Drew in our room. He’s not afraid of hard work and he understands that it’s going to take every ounce of energy that he has in order to get to the point where he can contribute in the way that I think that he can.”
Battle No. 2: Rounding out the depth chart
Ryan Taylor, Jake Stoneburner and undrafted rookies Colt Lyerla and Justin Perillo will compete for the final spot or spots. Taylor is a special-teams ace, with 23 career tackles on the kicking units, but has limited abilities on offense. He caught six passes for 30 yards last season to give him a three-year total of eight receptions. Stoneburner did almost nothing in nine games last season as an undrafted rookie, with no catches on offense and one tackle on special teams.
Lyerla, the incredibly athletic prospect who got run out of Oregon, was signed after a successful tryout at the rookie camp. He has as much upside as any player on the position but didn’t exactly have a glorious career at Oregon with 34 receptions in 28 career games. Perillo was an All-American at Maine who was given a $2,000 signing bonus.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.