Camp analysis: NFC North tight ends
Starter - Kellen Davis. Backups - Matt Spaeth, Evan Rodriguez, Kyle Adams, Brandon Venson, Draylen Ross.
Under former offensive coordinator Mike Martz, Davis and Matt Spaeth were blockers first and foremost. Both players have shown they are more than capable in that aspect of the job. But Davis still led the team with five touchdown receptions last season on just 18 catches, and coaches believe he can be a much bigger factor in the passing game. He is a huge target with a wide wingspan and enough athleticism to make difficult catches. Spaeth also presents a large target, but is more of a possession/underneath guy. Undersized rookie Rodriguez is more of an H-back type and should factor much more as a pass-catcher than a blocker since he lacks the size to function as an in-line blocker.
Starters - Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler. Backups - Will Heller, Nathan Overbay, Austin Wells, Alex Gottlieb.
Other than quarterback, this is the most stable position group on the team. Pettigrew broke his own single-season records for catches and yards last season and was, for all intents and purposes, the Lions' run game. Instead of a traditional run game, they used short, controlled passes to Pettigrew. With Pettigrew and Scheffler, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan can create and exploit mismatches against smaller defensive backs, particularly in the red zone. It has been an effective weapon the last two seasons. Heller is used as an H-back, as well as the blocking tight end. The Lions didn't have a fullback on the roster last season and probably won't this season.
Green Bay Packers
Starter - Jermichael Finley. Backups - Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, Ryan Taylor, D.J. Williams, Brandon Bostick, Eric Lair.
It's put-up-or-shut-up time for the loquacious Finley. He fancies himself as the premier tight end in the league - and well he could be with his indefensible tall frame, quickness and sheer athleticism - but dropping the ball as Finley did with great frequency (team-high 14 times) in 2011 doesn't curry favor with Rodgers. Thompson made a short-term investment by giving his designated franchise player a two-year, $14 million contract in hopes Finley will finally bust loose after posting career highs of 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. The likelihood Quarless will open camp on the physically unable to perform list after suffering a torn ACL and other ligament damage in December paves the way for Taylor and Williams to get involved in the passing game after being mostly nonfactors on offense as rookies. Rodgers is a big fan of the 6-foot-3, 254-pound Taylor, who excelled on special teams. Crabtree takes care of the dirty work as the unit's best blocker.
Starter - Kyle Rudolph. Backups - John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Allen Reisner, Mickey Shuler.
Rudolph is the starter, but he and Carlson will be on the field together a lot in offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's tight-end friendly offense. Musgrave brought that philosophy with him from Atlanta before last season. Like a lot of coordinators, he also wants to duplicate what the Patriots have done with their tight ends the past two years. Without a true No. 1 receiver, the Vikings made Carlson their No. 1 target in free agency this offseason. He and Rudolph are similar players from Notre Dame. Both have good speed for the position, soft hands and a tremendous catch radius. Rudolph, a second-round pick in 2011, has All-Pro potential. His hands are massive and they catch anything that's thrown near them. Ellison is another player to watch. Without a blocking tight end on the roster, the Vikings used a fourth-round pick on Ellison this year. Ellison is a fullback/tight end/H-back hybrid in the mold of a Jim Kleinsasser, the long-time Viking who retired after last season.
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