Depth at Tight End Means Difficult Decisions

Who will be the two or three backups at tight end? "It just depends on what you're looking for," tight ends coach Ben McAdoo said. Donald Lee has the experience, Spencer Havner the versatility, Andrew Quarless the potential and Tom Crabtree the blocking.

It's a great situation for Ben McAdoo.

And a difficult decision for Ted Thompson.

Tight end has emerged as the undisputed best position on the Green Bay Packers' roster. Starter Jermichael Finley is a star in the making, and the four guys who have joined him in the tight end rotation during training camp have proven to be quality players in their own right.

"I have no idea who my five are; I'm not down to four yet. It's that close," McAdoo told Packer Report after Tuesday's practice. "It just depends on what you're looking for. It'll be interesting. It's a great problem to have."

Usually, teams allot three spots on their roster for tight ends. But because of the depth at tight end — and their ability to be major contributors on special teams — it's practically a foregone conclusion that Thompson will keep four when he selects his 53-man roster on Saturday.

McAdoo has been working with this quintet daily for months. There were four weeks of organized team activities and a minicamp, followed by 24 training camp practices, the Family Night Scrimmage and the first three preseason practices. Yet, with the question prefaced with the caveat of, "I know you won't tell me who they are," McAdoo swore no decisions had been made leading up to Thursday's preseason finale at Kansas City.

"I don't know," he insisted. "Obviously, the Kansas City game will have a lot to do with it. Each guy kind of has their own little niche. We just have to decide how we want to move forward."

The veteran of the group is Donald Lee, a fact that shouldn't be overlooked, even though his 563 combined receiving yards over the last two seasons is 12 yards less than he posted in 2007 alone. In contrast to the 30-year-old Lee and his seven years of experience, the 23-year-old Finley has played only two seasons — a figure that's double the combined experience of the others.

"We'd have a young group," McAdoo said if Lee were traded or released. "Donald Lee's a pro, he's a leader, he leads by example. His manner rubs off on the other guys. Sometimes, it might not seem like it because Jermichael's so outspoken, but I think Donald Lee is a pro."

Lee takes a lot of pride in his selfless approach, even if it might cost him in the end.

"Being the elder of the year, I kind of see myself as being the big brother," he told Packer Report on Tuesday. "I try to help the guys in any way I can. J-Mike, he's coming along great. Quarless, Crabtree, Havner — anytime I see them using bad technique in practice, I go over and talk to them and try to help them out the best way I can. I'm trying to be a good teammate, and I think by doing that, it's helping this team get better."

As a proven commodity at a deep position, there's a chance Lee will be dealt at the deadline. There's one key player in the locker room who wants Lee to stick around, though.

"I think one guy who might be lost in the shuffle a little bit who's had a great spring, summer and training camp is Donald Lee," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "I think he's definitely had a more productive offseason for us this year, and yeah, he's going to have to play a big role for us in our two-tight end package. Hopefully be able to use him more like we did in '08 in our goal-line sets and just, for him, it's opportunity. He usually makes the most of his opportunities and we're just going to have to find ways to get him the ball."

Spencer Havner is the other holdover from last year. In his first season since moving from linebacker, Havner turned his seven regular-season receptions into four touchdowns, plus added another score in the playoff game. Havner was practically a salvation after Finley was lost for most of four games with a knee sprain. Havner, who Rodgers called "a gamer," scored one touchdown against Cleveland, two touchdowns against Minnesota and one touchdown against Dallas during that period.

"He's got natural hands," McAdoo said. "He's got a good feel for the game. He's out here practicing on defense today and was trying to undercut some of our routes. He's got a knack for the game. He's a football player. It doesn't matter where you put him, when you put him there, he always seems to come up with a play."

Andrew Quarless
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
Andrew Quarless was the first of the Packers' fifth-round draft picks. The all-time leader in receptions among tight ends at Penn State, Quarless looked slow, lethargic and, frankly, not very good during the offseason work. But, as he's gotten into what McAdoo calls "Packers shape," he's slowly gotten better. He made a great, leaping, one-handed touchdown catch on Tuesday to follow up on his leaping touchdown grab against the Colts.

"He's flashed a little more than he has," McAdoo said. "There's some peaks and valleys in developing a young guy but we like the direction he's headed."

The surprise of the group is Tom Crabtree, a December addition to the practice squad who started this offseason as an afterthought among this group. But all he has done is block everyone in his sights. A hand injury stymied his pass-catching ability but he practiced without the cast on Tuesday.

"He made some nice plays (Tuesday)," McAdoo said. "I think he's still a little ginger and the cast posed some challenges. Obviously, we didn't get a chance to evaluate his hands as well as we would have liked to do because of the cast. I've seen him catch the ball cleanly."

The wild card is special teams, since Finley will be logging the majority of the snaps on offense. Lee was on all four of the major special teams this week (kickoff return, kickoff, punt, punt return), Crabtree on three (all but kickoff), Havner on two (kickoff return and kickoff) and Quarless none (though he did take a rep for Brandon Chillar on punt return).

"You know, I don't really think of it that way," Crabtree said when asked if his special teams roles were a good omen. "I just think it means I'm doing things right for now. It's up to me to keep doing them right all the way up till this last game and see what happens. Hopefully it does mean that I'm on the right side but I can't really worry about that." It all adds up to a difficult decision for Thompson. If something were to happen to Finley, Lee is the most well-rounded and experienced replacement. Havner is the most versatile. Quarless has the most potential. Crabtree is the best blocker.

"I'm not sure what they're going to do with that situation there," Rodgers said. "I wouldn't rule out the possibility, although I'm not making any of those decisions, of all five of those guys being around."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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