Ready or not, it’s Kennard Backman’s time.
The Green Bay Packers’ rookie tight end was inactive for each of the first three games. But with Andrew Quarless out until at least Thanksgiving, Backman’s importance on the roster has increased as the only tight end on the depth chart behind starter Richard Rodgers.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity,” Backman said on Thursday. “Every day I come in here, it’s a blessing to be here. That’s exactly how I’m going to look forward to Sunday. It’s a blessing and I’m going to go out there and play. If they put me in position to go out there and play, I’m going to go out there and play.”
Backman, a sixth-round pick out of Alabama-Birmingham, got off to a slow start in training camp. Billed as a receiving threat, Backman dropped far too many passes and appeared to be on the roster bubble coming down the stretch. But Backman used a strong finishing kick to beat out Justin Perillo and Mitchell Henry for a roster spot.
“Knowing what to do” has been the biggest difference, Backman said.
“I was able to play a lot faster because I was more confident in what I was doing,” he said. “If you’re in the right spot, you can play a lot faster. If you know what’s coming, you can play faster and you can make plays.”
That’s how position coach Jerry Fontenot sees it, too. Learning the NFL game is a challenge for any player. Now, imagine being Backman and trying to learn an offense that’s grown and evolved for years with Aaron Rodgers and a veteran supporting cast. And then consider the job demands of a tight end. On one play, he’s a traditional tight end. On the next, he’s playing fullback or receiver.
“The less he thinks, the faster he seems to play and the more natural he seems to play,” Fontenot said. “Other than just working on some things fundamentally, I don’t know that you prepare for every possible situation that’s going to occur. You have to learn through your experiences. He’s fully capable of that.”
With the coaching staff tailoring their efforts for the veterans rather than the young players, Backman and fellow rookies like Brett Hundley, Ty Montgomery and Alonzo Harris have worked overtime together to learn the nuances of the Packers’ offense.
It worked for Hundley, who had an excellent preseason. It’s worked for Montgomery, who’s been impressive since Day 1. Now, will it work for Backman? Will Backman be in the right spot at the right time when Rodgers changes the play at the line of scrimmage?
“Obviously, the big question mark is he going to be able to make adjustments on game day? I think that he’s ready,” Fontenot said. “I think that he’s ready to go out there and get some opportunities and see how he reacts. We’re going to be smart about it. He’s definitely ready. We’ll have to see what happens on game day but I have every confidence that, whatever we ask him to do, he will be able to do completely.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.