Who In The Heck Is Tom Crabtree?

Tom Crabtree wasn't a star in college and went undrafted. An afterthought at a deep position before training camp, he's now hailed as the best blocking tight end on the team and is poised to force his way onto the roster.

It takes a big man to admit he was an idiot.

It takes a big man to admit that idiotic mistake to, well, a big man.

And so it was how I introduced myself to Tom Crabtree a few days ago.

On Page 34 of the Packer Report Magazine training camp preview edition, I examined the battle to be the tight ends backing up Jermichael Finley. I didn't bother to mention Crabtree. In my defense, Crabtree caught a whopping 40 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns at Miami (Ohio). In four seasons. He was a part-time starter on a bad mid-major football team and never earned all-conference accolades.

Frankly, it was the resume of a camp body. Based on that resume and the talent at that position, Crabtree seemed like the longest of long shots on the training camp roster.

Instead, Crabtree has been one of the big surprises and, barring a disastrous conclusion to training camp, is practically a sure thing to force his way onto the roster.

"I've been here since the end of last season, which really helped, so I went through the whole offseason and learned a lot and kind of found out what the coaches wanted from me and how they do things around here," Crabtree said after laughing at my apologetic introduction.

Signed as an undrafted free agent last year by Kansas City, Crabtree spent a few weeks on the Chiefs' practice squad before being released. He joined the Packers in December.

"They had two senior tight ends at Miami of Ohio his senior season," general manager Ted Thompson said when I asked him about this Crabtree fellow. "I don't think Tom was the actual starter. He played quite a bit, but another fellow, (Jake O'Connell, the Chiefs' seventh-rounder in 2008 was the playmaker). But we liked a lot of the things about him. He's a good blocker. He's very competitive. Solid on special teams. Catches the ball well. And you could see that in college."

What Crabtree brings is grit to a position that features the electric pass-catching ability of Jermichael Finley. Spencer Havner and Donald Lee are good combo players who can catch and block, and talented fifth-round pick Andrew Quarless has been consistently inconsistent. Coach Mike McCarthy said Crabtree is the team's best blocking tight end.

"I like him a lot," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Really kind of an old-fashioned football player. I like the way that when he's in a blocking drill, you can hear his shoulder pads, you can hear some contact. He's not a guy who reaches and grabs with his hands and tries to hold on and steer people. Fundamentally he does things you like."

Crabtree had been nursing a sore hand, and ended up leaving last week's preseason game to get X-rays. Further testing showed only a bone bruise and sprain, so Crabtree avoided season-ending injured reserve and has been back blocking and catching with a cast on his left hand.

That "old-fashioned football player" moniker seems to fit.

"That's fine with me," Crabtree said when relayed Philbin's comments. "I think he said something to me yesterday, joking around, and said something about me being a hard-nosed, old-school guy. I take it as a compliment. When you're called old-school or something, I look at it as a toughness thing and that guy who comes to work with a lunch pail."

Crabtree brought his lunch pail to Green Bay when he was signed to the practice squad in December. He was mainly used as a blocker in college, and that's what the tape of his time at Kansas City showed, too. But when running plays on the scout team, a practice squad player doesn't have the luxury of being a blocking specialist. It was then that tight ends coach Ben McAdoo noticed that Crabtree could catch and run, too.

"He came a long way in a short time," McAdoo said. "It's a credit to him; he put a lot of work in. He hasn't had a lot of experience doing the pass game stuff, but he's come a long way and he understands what we're trying to get done conceptually and shows he can catch the football, even with a cast."

All of this praise only serves as motivation. When you're called the best blocking tight end on a team that consistently says it wants to play more physical, it would appear the odds are in Crabtree's favor of making the team. He's also on the No. 1 kickoff return team and has worked on the No. 1 punt return periodically. Normally, the team keeps only three tight ends, but Thompson wouldn't even rule out keeping all five, though at this rate, the more likely scenario is Crabtree makes the team and Quarless is released with the hopes of stashing him on the practice squad.

"It means a lot to me," Crabtree said of the praise from the coaches. "Something like that motivates me even more because now you're going to have people looking at me like, ‘OK, I heard about this Crabtree kid, so let's see what he can do.' I feel like from that standpoint, it makes me want to step up and work that much harder to prove to people that I can back up those statements."

And make people like me eat their lack of words.


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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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