The 2009 Packers by position: Tight ends

In Part 5 of our position-by-position look at training camp, we look at a position that slipped in 2008. Can Donald Lee bounce back and can Jermichael Finley play to his potential?

Packer Report continues its position-by-position training camp preview with a look at the tight ends. The list after "depth" includes all of the players on the current roster. The list after "final cut" is our prediction on who will make the final roster, with the number of players based on past seasons.

Depth (6): Donald Lee, Jermichael Finley, Tory Humphrey, Devin Frischknecht, Evan Moore, Spencer Havner.

Review: Let's rewind to 2007. The Packers' top two tight ends, Lee and Bubba Franks, combined for 60 receptions, 707 yards, an 11.8-yard average and nine touchdowns. Go back to last season, and the Packers' top three tight ends, Lee, Humphrey and Finley, combined for 56 receptions, 539 yards, a 9.6-yard average and six touchdowns. The big difference, other than having Franks join Brett Favre in New York, was replacing Favre with Aaron Rodgers. While Rodgers turned Greg Jennings into a star and got on the same page with Donald Driver, he forgot the roots of the West Coast Offense. While Humphrey (11 receptions, 162 yards, 14.7 average) proved to be a nice surprise after missing all of 2007 with a broken leg suffered on the first day of training camp, the Packers got disappointing production from Lee and Finley, the rookie third-round pick. Lee averaged merely 7.8 yards on his 39 catches, though his five touchdowns were only one off of his total from 2007. Finley, of course, made more news for what he said in the locker room about Rodgers and the play-calling than for anything he did through the first 14 games of the season. Finley had a 35-yard catch in Week 16 vs. Chicago and a 29-yarder in Week 17 vs. Detroit to finish with six receptions for 74 yards and one touchdown.

Strength: The strength is in the potential — especially Finley's potential. Finley is blessed with soft hands, remarkable athleticism and a 6-foot-5 frame. He was a dominant force during offseason workouts, with Rodgers calling him "unguardable." If his play in the spring translates to Sundays in fall, then a dangerous offense is going to become downright lethal. First, though, Finley must beat out Lee, who proved what he could do two years ago. While not as athletic as Finley, Lee can run and has turned himself into a decent blocker, too. His 11 touchdowns over the last two seasons are nothing to sneeze at. Despite limited opportunities, Humphrey had three catches of 20-plus yards — as many as Lee.

Weakness: This group needs to become more consistent, though some of that falls on the quarterback to keep them involved. How's this for a statistical oddity? Lee had 27 receptions and five touchdowns at home compared to 12 receptions and no touchdowns on the road. He turned 10 catches into first downs at home (37.0 percent) compared to two (16.7) on the road. For all of the hype Finley is receiving entering camp, he had three catches for 10 yards in the first 14 games last year. By not giving Humphrey a restricted free agent tender, the Packers showed they aren't sold on him as the third tight end, but who's going to replace him? Moore, the 6-foot-6 former standout receiver at Stanford who spent all of last season on injured reserve? Frischknecht, an undrafted free agent who was added halfway through the offseason workouts? Or Havner, who received a look at tight end during the offseason after spending three years as a practice-squad linebacker?

Quoteworthy: "A world of difference," Finley said when asked about the difference from his rookie season. "Last year, I was really just kind of overwhelmed with everything I was getting thrown in and thrown at. This year, I'm comfortable. I used to go into the huddle looking at A-Rod with 8-ball eyes. This year, I'm real relaxed and real comfortable."

Final cut (3): Finley, Lee, Humphrey.

Lee remained the starter through the offseason practices but figures to be passed by the talented Finley — assuming he proves mature enough to handle it. Finley provides the potential to stress defenses with his ability to get deep down the middle. At this point, Humphrey is head and shoulders ahead of the other candidates to be the third tight end, though there's a chance the third tight end isn't on the roster.


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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 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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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