Several roster decisions might hinge on the Green Bay Packers’ final preseason game. At no position is that more apparent than at tight end.
Beyond Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless, the depth chart is a giant question mark. Justin Perillo, Kennard Backman and Mitchell Henry are battling for the final spot or spots. Maybe all three make it. Maybe all three get cut and the Packers add an outsider to the mix.
“It’s huge. I think it’s huge for all three of those guys that are not Drew or Richard,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said on Tuesday. “It’s vital for them to be able to go out and maximize their opportunities because anything can happen on that last Thursday night game.”
Henry is the personification of that battle. His growth has been limited by a broken left middle finger, which forced him to wear a club cast that covered all but the thumb for most of training camp. He might have been left in the dust in this battle but Perillo missed a couple weeks with a concussion and Backman dropped more passes with two hands than Henry did with his one healthy one.
Based on the unofficial depth chart posted at Packers.com, game reps from Saturday and game reps through the totality of the preseason, Henry is No. 5 on what’s now a five-man pecking order with Tuesday’s release of Harold Spears. However, it’s worth noting that Henry is running with the first team on kickoff return. Henry wouldn’t read anything into that but the Packers certainly wouldn’t waste valuable practice and game reps with a player they didn’t think was at least worthy of roster consideration.
“I guess you can look at it a lot of different ways,” Henry said. “I really don’t know what they think up there or how they do things here. I’ve got a good opportunity and I’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Henry went undrafted out of Western Kentucky and received a $5,000 signing bonus — tied for the biggest bonus in this year’s undrafted class. He impressed enough early in camp to get a look on the No. 1 kickoff return. But the broken finger — he missed only one practice and was back for Family Night — was a major setback.
“Being able to deal with adversity and seeing the way that he adapted was good,” Fontenot said. “He’s a smart kid, he works hard, he’s not afraid to continue to work even when he might be in pain. He’s a worker. From that standpoint, it’s been good. From the negative standpoint, you really can’t evaluate his development as a pass catcher, you can’t really evaluate his development as a run blocker all that much and certainly you can’t evaluate him as a pass protector without your hands. This is going to be a very important week for him. He knows that and I don’t need to reiterate it to him. Just go out there and do you best.”
On Tuesday, Henry practiced without the cast for the first time. Not that he’s fully healed. The injured finger was splinted to another to provide stability. To adapt, he had to cut a hole in his gloves. But at least he can catch and block with (almost) two hands.
Linebacker Nate Palmer has been playing most of training camp with a club cast. He said the injury has made him a better player. Henry laughed when asked if the same was true for him.
“I don’t know if it’ll make me a better player,” he said, “but it helped me focus on some things that I probably needed to focus on — definitely in the run game. Footwork, steps, it did kind of help me in that area.”
There wasn’t much doubt that Henry would survive Tuesday’s cut to 75, though he admitted to feeling a “little nervous” nonetheless. Now comes Thursday’s game, with everything riding on the biggest final exam of his life.
“You look at it the same as every game,” Henry said. “You never know when it’s going to be your last. It could be but you’ve got to go out there and perform just as hard as you did in the other games.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.