GREEN BAY – For the first time since 2007 the Packers open training camp without Jermichael Finley on the roster. During his six seasons with the Packers Finley served as a lightning rod for many fans, tantalizing with big games but never harnessing the transcendent talents that many saw in him.
The Packers and their fans now get a look at what life without Finley looks like. While many other NFL teams boast tight ends who hail from the latest evolution at the position; Jimmy Graham in New Orleans, Jordan Cameron of the Browns and Vernon Davis in San Francisco, the Packers are left with one big question mark at the position.
The Packers have no shortage of tight ends to choose from, they have seven on the 90-man roster as they open camp; Brandon Bostick, Colt Lyerla, Justin Perillo, Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers, Jake Stoneburner and Ryan Taylor. The group has a combined 107 career catches and five receiving touchdowns. Andrew Quarless has accounted for 91 of the catches and three of the touchdowns.
Mike McCarthy and tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot have talent to work with from this group but it remains to be seen if any of these seven players can be the three down, all situations player Finley was.
Quarless is the longest tenured member of this group, entering his fifth season in the NFL. He figures to get the first crack at being the number one tight end for 2014. Quarless played in all 16 regular season games and the playoff loss to San Francisco last season. It was the first time he’s been able to do so in his NFL career.
Quarless caught at least one pass in each of the final 10 games of the 2013 season including 6 catch games against the Cowboys and Falcons and a 5 catch game against the Bears. At 6-4, 254, he also has the body to be a good inline blocker, often seen as a must in the Packers system. All that said he’s more of a traditional tight end than the modern faux wide receiver masquerading as a tight end.
That brings us to Richard Rodgers, the Packers 3rd round pick and Brandon Bostick. Both played wide receivers during their college careers. Rodgers started at California as a tight end before being shuttled into more of a wide receiver role during his final year with the Bears. Bostick spent his rookie campaign on the Packers squad before making the active roster last season. Both of them could prove to be the vertical threat at the tight end position.
The draft profile of Rodgers’ on nfl.com summed him up, “Good balance and body control. Dependable short-to-intermediate receiver, can snatch throws off his body and make contested grabs. Has potential as a move blocker. Showed dedication and discipline re-shaping his body as a junior.” He’s also the son of a football coach who played college football at California just like his son.
Ryan Taylor is the Packers second most seasoned tight end on the roster, although he only has 8 catches over his three seasons but is a highly valued special teams player. Taylor seems to be on the field in just about every phase of special teams during his tenure in Green Bay.
The other returner is Jake Stoneburner who spent most of the season on the practice squad before being elevated late in the season to the active roster. Stoneburner didn’t record any stats during the 2013 season.
This brings us to the two undrafted rookie tight ends on the Packers roster, Colt Lyerla and Justin Perillo. Lyrela was dismissed from the Oregon football team last season and arrested for cocaine possession but appears ready to start over and try and earn a spot on the roster. He’s already received a lot of attention from the media during rookie camp and OTAs and that figures to carry over to training camp. He could potentially be the most skilled player in the tight end group but that means he has to be on the field. He was projected as a 3rd to 4th round draft pick before sliding out of the draft completely. His nfl.com draft profile refers to him as a, “An extremely athletic receiving tight end,” who “possesses elite physical talent.” If Mike McCarthy or one of his coaches can serve as a father figure for Lyrela he could be a breakout player this camp.
Rounding out the options is Justin Perillo out of Maine. Perillo was a third team All-American for the Black Bears last season. He’s 6-3 and 250 pounds.
Jermichael Finley’s future with the team and in the NFL figures to remain up in the air for some time so the Packers have to hope that one or more of the tight ends in this group separate from the pack, no pun intended, to earn the Packers starting Tight End spot.