Green Bay Packers: Jerry Fontenot

SEATTLE -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 28-22 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field:

Cobb
Tough to take: This game may go down as one of the toughest losses in Packers playoff history. Leading 16-0 at halftime, ESPN's win probability data gave the Packers a 94.4 percent chance of winning and a 96.1 percent chance of winning with 5:04 left in the fourth quarter (leading 19-7). But the Packers allowed the Seahawks to score two touchdowns in 44 seconds late in the fourth quarter and win the game on the first possession of overtime. "We gave it away," Packers receiver Randall Cobb said. "We had opportunities and we didn't make the plays when we needed to."

State of shock: Packers coach Mike McCarthy called the game "a hard one to swallow." When asked what McCarthy said to the team, veteran linebacker A.J. Hawks said: "I think he's obviously in a state of shock a little bit, as well as we are, and he told us he cared about us as players and men. We've got to figure out where to go from here, but this season's over."

Botched recovery: Backup tight end Brandon Bostick sat in his locker with his head in his hands as his position coach, Jerry Fontenot, tried to console him. That was an impossible task after Bostick botched an onside kick recovery with 2:07 remaining in regulation. "I was just thinking about everything -- just the game and just my teammates, just everyone in Green Bay, my family," Bostick said. "I feel like I let everyone down. But I'll just try to do my best to move on from it." Bostick's job on that play wasn't even to go after the ball. He was supposed to block so that hands-team specialist Jordy Nelson could catch it. Instead, Bostick went for the ball and Seahawks receiver Chris Matthews recovered it.

Packers Camp Report: Day 11

August, 7, 2014
8/07/14
6:45
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:
  • Rookie tight end Colt Lyerla, wearing a large brace on his right knee, hobbled through the locker room Thursday on crutches and with an uncertainty about his future. Lyerla still does not know the full extent of his injury. He is scheduled for more tests on Friday, but there's a chance he might not be cleared before the preseason ends. "If I had to guess, I'd say no," he said. That would make it nearly impossible for the Packers to keep him on the roster, something that was a long shot anyway, but it also could complicate matters as far as the practice squad goes because of waivers/injury settlement rules. He hurt his knee in Saturday's Family Night practice after an ill-advised leap over a defender "I just said, 'Look, even though there's 70,000 people out here, it is still practice, so just be smart,'" tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. "And that was really all I said to him. Hopefully, we'll get him back as soon as we can."
  • Thursday marked the beginning of coach Mike McCarthy's new practice schedule leading up to games. As will be the norm two days before a game, the players did not practice. They took part in a walk-through, workouts and meetings. Then on Friday, they will hold a short practice, which is closed to the public, before departing for the airport. In McCarthy's first eight seasons, he has tweaked various parts of his schedule but never wavered from the idea that on-field practice would be wrapped up two days before the game. Until now. "How we've handled the end of the week going into a football game we have stayed consistent with throughout, and this is the change," McCarthy said. "It's really the last 48 hours of how you go into a game."
  • While most of the focus at safety has been on first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and second-year pro Micah Hyde, who appears to have made a successful transition from cornerback, another safety has had perhaps the best camp of them all. Third-year pro Sean Richardson leads the group with two interceptions through the first two weeks of camp. That's big for a position group that failed to pick off a single pass last season. McCarthy made special mention of Richardson on Thursday. "I've been impressed with him both defensively and special teams," he said. "I mean he needed to pick it up on special teams, and you know Sean's done a lot of good things." Last year, Richardson missed the first half of the season while recovering from neck fusion surgery.
  • McCarthy ruled out seven players for Saturday's game: Safety Morgan Burnett (oblique strain), receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee), guard/tackle Don Barclay (knee), safety Tanner Miller (ankle), defensive tackle Letroy Guion (hamstring), defensive end Jerel Worthy (back) and Lyerla. None will travel with the team.
  • Looking ahead to next week, the Packers have only two open practices, Tuesday at noon and Wednesday at 11:45 a.m. local time.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Between now and the Green Bay Packers' first training camp practice on July 26, we will break down each position group.

Next up is the tight end group.

Returning players: Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor, Brandon Bostick, Jake Stoneburner

Gone from last season: Jermichael Finley (unsigned)

New this season: Richard Rodgers (third-round pick), Colt Lyerla (undrafted free agent), Justin Perillo (undrafted free agent)

Position coach: Jerry Fontenot (third season, previously was an offensive assistant in 2006, assistant offensive line coach from 2007-10 and running backs coach in 2011)

Bush
Finley
Biggest issue: Finley was one of the most dynamic tight ends in the NFL before he sustained a season-ending (and possibly career-ending) neck injury on Oct. 20 against the Browns. The Packers struggled to replicate his production in the passing game. With Finley still unsigned, they will need to look elsewhere for a player who can make plays deep down the seam and also take the short and intermediate routes and break tackles for extra yards. The athletic and powerful Finley was able to do both.

Player to watch: Rodgers was perhaps the most impressive rookie in the offseason practices, making difficult catches look easy. One member of the team's personnel department predicted Rodgers would be the opening-day starter ahead of Quarless.

Quarless
Medical report: Quarless missed all the offseason practices due to an undisclosed injury.

Help wanted: The Packers not only have an opening for a starter but also are looking for another playmaker to emerge. That could be Lyerla, who went undrafted and unsigned until he parlayed a tryout with the Packers into a roster spot. Although he did not stand out in the offseason practices, he has big-play ability. Or it could be Bostick, who averaged 17.1 yards per catch in limited action last season.

Quotable: "I think that we are pretty wide open at this point," Fontenot said of his group. "I think that guys have shown some progress, and those guys warrant a much bigger look. Once we get to training camp, we'll kind of have an idea of what the rotation will be and how we give guys reps."

Previous installments:

Monday: Quarterbacks

Tuesday: Running backs

Wednesday: Receivers
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson say it every offseason: It is not the rookies who will make the difference for the Green Bay Packers but rather the returning players.

With that in mind, we continue our look at some returning players who need to take their game to another level in 2014.

Next up, it's tight end Andrew Quarless.

Quarless
Why he has to step up: Quarless did not exactly convince the Packers that he could be as productive as Jermichael Finley was in the 10 starts he made after Finley's season-ending (and possibly career-ending) neck injury. Quarless averaged just 9.8 yards per catch last season on 32 receptions compared with Finley's 12.5-yard career average. Quarless did show signs of some play-making ability with a pair of six-catch, 66-yard, and one-touchdown games in consecutive weeks last season against Atlanta and Dallas. Quarless' blocking also was shaky at times, prompting tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot to call him out publicly last season.

What he needs to do: Quarless needs to become more consistent. The game before his first six-catch game last season against the Falcons, he caught just one pass for 7 yards against Detroit. The game after his second six-catch game, he caught just one pass for 19 yards against Pittsburgh.

Outlook: The Packers aren't convinced Quarless is their starter of the future, which is why they gave him only a two-year, $3 million contract -- hardly starter's money -- in free agency this offseason. Quarless did not help himself this spring by missing all of the offseason practices with an undisclosed injury. It's uncertain whether it was related to the 2011 knee injury that kept him out for the entire 2012 season. Whatever the reason, Quarless may have watched rookie Richard Rodgers take control of the starting job in his absence. The third-round pick from California had perhaps the most impressive offseason among the recent draft picks.

Quotable: "The things that Andrew and I talked about immediately after the season were, No. 1, we need to finish better, and No. 2, we need to get better with our fundamentals as far as our footwork in the run game and our pad level," Fontenot said. "In the pass game, we need to make a bigger impact. We have to run routes more efficiently. I think that the time that Andrew spent off the field rehabbing and getting his knee back to health cost him -- not unlike anyone else in that position. If you spend two seasons off the field, it's going to have an effect. All of that being said, I see a guy who has a lot more in the tank and can give a lot more to this team. I'm excited about having Drew in our room. He's not afraid of hard work, and he understands that it's going to take every ounce of energy that he has in order to get to the point where he can contribute in the way that I think that he can."

Previous installments

Part one: Morgan Burnett

Part two: Nick Perry

Part three: Datone Jones

Part four: Jerel Worthy

Part five: Brad Jones

Part six: Davon House

Part seven: B.J. Raji
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If you watched our NFL Nation Buzz Video from this week, you heard about how coach Mike McCarthy was encouraged by the fact that the Green Bay Packers have several players who have come back strong after significant injuries last season.

Let's take a closer look at the Packers' health situation as they wrap up the third week of organized team activity practices and head into next week's mandatory minicamp.

We'll put the players into three categories -- those who have returned from injuries that prevented them from finishing last season, those who are still out and those who have been injured this offseason.

Let's look at the first category now and the others in a separate posting coming later on Friday.

Returned from injuries

1. Bryan Bulaga: After missing all of last season with a torn ACL in his left knee -- an injury he sustained last August in the annual Family Night scrimmage – Bulaga is back at right tackle (he was slated to move to left tackle last season) with the number one offensive line. Although he is wearing a large brace on his left knee, he appears to be moving well and taking a full load of snaps in practice. It will be interesting to see whether Bulaga will be limited when the pads go on in training camp. It's an important year because Bulaga has missed all or parts of the last two seasons because of injuries (a hip cost him the final seven games of 2012).

"Bryan Bulaga looks good," McCarthy said. "We're in the OTA practices and I think our pass-under-pressure drill has been good, so we're getting some work there with the sets. So the individual work is what our offensive line coaches do a great job of, so he's getting exactly what he needs. He's stronger. He weighs a little more than he has in the past. So he's having a heck of a spring."

2. DuJuan Harris: Like Bulaga, Harris missed the entire 2013 season because of a knee injury, but his was not an ACL reconstruction. Harris had a patellar tendon injury that bothered him throughout the offseason and flared up in training camp. Before his injury, McCarthy had planned to use Harris in combination with Eddie Lacy as a one-two running back punch. Instead, James Starks became Lacy's primary backup and excelled in the role. It's now a crowded backfield with those three plus Johnathan Franklin (more on him later today), Michael Hill plus undrafted rookies Rajion Neal and LaDarius Perkins.

"I feel good; I feel ready to go, man," Harris said. "Got to get back in the mental department, but I'll be ready."

3. Casey Hayward: A hamstring injury that he sustained while working out on his own last July ruined his second season. It recurred two more times and limited him to just three games. The Packers were expecting big things from Hayward after he picked off six passes (most among NFL rookies) in 2012. He has returned to his slot cornerback position this offseason although it may take time for him to get back to where he was in 2012.

"If I can get out there and be 90 percent, which I'm feeling great out there right now, if I can get to training camp and be 100 percent, I'll be fine," Hayward said. "I'll be ready to go."

4. Sam Barrington: A seventh-round draft pick from South Florida in 2013, Barrington was active for seven of the first eight games and played on special teams until a hamstring injury ended his rookie season. Barrington has tried to work his way back into the rotation at inside linebacker this offseason.

"Sam came in and tried to establish what he can bring to the table before anything he tweaked his [hamstring] a little bit ... and we ended up putting him on IR so there's a lot of still unknowns about him," linebackers coach Winston Moss said. "He's working hard, great attitude, all of our guys are working hard and trying to get the right thing done on a day-to-day basis. The only thing with Sam is you can just continue to give him as much opportunities as possible so that at the end of the day there's going to be an opportunity to evaluate him."

Bostick
5. Brandon Bostick: The second-year tight end missed the first two weeks of OTAs while waiting for clearance to return from foot surgery. He finally returned this week. Bostick, a former college receiver, showed some signs of playmaking ability late last season after Jermichael Finley's season-ending neck injury. He averaged 17.1 yards on seven receptions before landing on injured reserve in December. Bostick had a screw placed in his foot to repair a broken bone.

"I thought Brandon made some real strides by the end of the season," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said earlier this offseason. "His effort level was really high. He seemed to have a better understanding of what he was being asked to do. As with everything, great effort can overcome a lot of bad technique. In his case that was happening at a much greater level as his technique improved. Obviously, it's a setback, being not able to practice and getting the timing with the quarterback, getting the timing with the blocking unit up front and getting in protection mode. So he's going to have some hurdles when he gets back and he's able to go full speed just to get his body angles right, his alignment in order and being able to trust his fundamentals again. I think it's going to take some time. The sooner we get him back, the better."

6. Kevin Dorsey: The seventh-round pick in 2012 missed all of last season because of a toe injury and has returned to a crowded receiver group. The Packers drafted three receivers -- Davante Adams (second round), Jared Abbrederis (fifth round) and Jeff Janis (seventh round) -- and return three of their top-four receivers from last season. Dorsey has been able to participate in all of the OTAs so far.

7. Myles White: After being promoted from the practice squad in Week 7 last season after Randall Cobb went on the temporary IR list, the former undrafted rookie played in seven games and caught nine passes for 66 yards before a knee injury ended his season. White said it was a meniscus tear that would not require surgery, and he has shown no signs that it has limited him this offseason.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Richard Rodgers stood in the Green Bay Packers' locker room on Tuesday with his iPad clutched in his left hand.

He was headed to a meeting to watch film of that day's organized team activity with his position coach, Jerry Fontenot, and the rest of the tight ends.

[+] EnlargeRichard Rodgers
Mike Roemer/AP PhotoCoach Mike McCarthy says rookie tight end Richard Rodgers is "off to a very good start" in Packers' organized team activities.
But when that meeting was over, he planned to power on his team-issued tablet and watch more film -- not of anything he has done since the Packers picked him in the third round of last month's draft, but of what the tight end is supposed to look like in the Packers' offense.

To do that, he planned to roll video of plays from last season before tight end Jermichael Finley sustained his season-ending (and possibly career-ending) neck injury.

"He makes plays, catches the ball, makes moves in space and that's really what you want to do as a tight end," Rodgers said of Finley. "You want to get the ball and make plays and break tackles, and that's exactly what he does."

Finley's uncertain future -- he remains available on the free-agent market while teams try to figure out whether it is safe for him to play football game -- casts a shadow over the Packers. His nameplate still sits atop his locker at Lambeau Field, although the locker itself is empty.

For now, Rodgers is among seven tight ends on the roster. Combined, they have four career touchdown catches, or 16 fewer than Finley (who has 13 in his 2 1/2 seasons).

"I'm not really worried about what's going on over there," Rodgers said as he glanced toward Finley's locker. "I just try to focus on what I'm doing and learning my stuff and not making mental errors on the field."

So far, Rodgers has done that perhaps better than any of the rookies in the Packers' draft class. In Tuesday's OTA, he made one of the most memorable plays of OTAs when he snagged a one-handed catch on a deep ball that fluttered, perhaps because it was slightly tipped, from backup quarterback Scott Tolzien.

It was an example of what the Packers saw from the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Rodgers last season at Cal, when he played receiver after the Bears' new coaching staff removed the traditional tight end from the offense.

"I just think he's a natural in space," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I'm excited to see him when we get into the in-line work into training camp, but as far as all of the movement, playing in space, picking up the scheme, I think Richard's off to a very good start."

Much like Finley, there are questions about Rodgers' blocking that he hopes to answer when the pads go on in training camp.

But so far, it appears those who thought the Packers reached for Rodgers at No. 98 overall might have been wrong.

"He's made a lot of plays," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after Tuesday's practice. "Matt [Flynn] and I were just talking about it, how when we made the pick some of the so-called experts on the draft channel said he was a late sixth-round pick, [where] they had him as far as a grade, which is pretty laughable when you watch the talent he's got and the ability, especially some of the plays he made today.

“Again, it's helmet and shorts, but you have to be excited about his body type and the hands. He's made some incredible catches, makes it look easy. I think he's going to push for some playing time if he can transfer what he's done in the spring now to the fall and have the potential to be an impact player.”

Whether it’s Rodgers or another tight end (perhaps Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick or rookie Colt Lyerla) the Packers need more from the position than what they got after Finley's injury.

When asked whether he can give the Packers that, young Rodgers said: "I hope so."
Each week, I will ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail and then will deliver the answers over the weekend.

 
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers would like to bring back tight end Andrew Quarless, but it might not be easy.

The former fifth-round draft pick from Penn State already is drawing plenty of interest on the free-agent market, according to his agent, Chris Cabot.

Quarless
Cabot said Monday that he has had discussions with the Packers and seven other NFL teams about Quarless since the free-agent negotiating period opened on Saturday.

Until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, only the Packers can sign Quarless. If a deal can't be reached by then, Quarless would be free to sign with another team.

The 6-foot-4, 252-pound Quarless is coming off a season in which he set career highs in receptions (32), yards (312) and touchdowns (two). He became the Packers' starting tight end after Jermichael Finley's season-ending neck injury on Oct. 20.

In perhaps the best display of what he could potentially become, Quarless had back-to-back games with six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14 and Dallas Cowboys in Week 15.

Quarless missed the entire 2012 season because of a knee injury he sustained late in 2011, and the Packers believe he still has room for growth.

"I think he's got more in the tank, and we talked about that throughout the season," Packers tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said shortly after the season. "I think that he's made strides in being a better receiver and understanding where he needs to be on the field at any given point. As with anything, you always work on consistency."

Cabot did not name any of the seven other teams who have inquired about his client, but among those believed to be interested in Quarless are the New York Giants, where former Packers assistant coach Ben McAdoo is the new offensive coordinator. McAdoo was Quarless’ position coach in 2010 and 2011 before moving over to quarterbacks coach.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy now has a former running back coaching running backs and a former quarterback coaching quarterbacks.

Not that it's imperative to do it that way but in his most recent restructuring, McCarthy has restored some order to his staff with Sam Gash in charge of the running backs and Alex Van Pelt tutoring the quarterbacks.

Van Pelt, an NFL quarterback for nine years with the Buffalo Bills, spent the past two seasons coaching the Packers' running backs. It was the first time working at that position for him after serving as a quarterbacks coach with the Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

McCarthy said he hired Van Pelt two years ago not necessarily because he thought he would excel as the running backs coach -- although he did so -- but in part to one day move him up on his staff.

“I think it definitely has broadened his horizons as far as coaching offense,” McCarthy said of Van Pelt. “I know he's very appreciative of the two years coaching running backs. But he's a quarterback coach. You're talking about a very talented football coach, played the position, knows this offense.”

Van Pelt replaced Ben McAdoo, who spent two years coaching quarterbacks despite having never played the position. McAdoo was hired last month as the New York Giants offensive coordinator.

“Anybody can coach the position,” Van Pelt said. “The only thing [having played quarterback] gives you is the ability to say, ‘Hey, I experienced this.' That's about it in that regard. I actually took a five-step drop and had to pressure out to the right side and threw an interception. I know what that's like. I've done that. That's really about all it does give you is [the ability to] say ‘Hey, I've had these experiences and this is what I've learned from them.'”

Meanwhile, Gash, a former teammate of Van Pelt's in Buffalo, was twice a Pro Bowl fullback in his 12-year NFL playing career and spent six seasons as the Detroit Lions running backs coach before sitting out of coaching last season.

“I've always like Sam Gash,” McCarthy said. “He's an excellent fit for us. He's played the position. He's coached running backs. He did a very good job in the interview process. He's worked with Alex Van Pelt in the past, I think his transition will be very easy to our offense.”

In its current form, McCarthy's offensive staff includes four players who were NFL players at the position they now coach -- Gash, Van Pelt, offensive line coach James Campen (offensive line) and Joel Hilgenberg (assistant offensive line). In fact, all of his offensive position coaches played in the NFL. Tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot was an offensive lineman, and receivers coaches Edgar Bennett was a running back.

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
  • In the wake of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam revealing that he is gay, McCarthy said the Packers would view him like any other player in the draft and would evaluate him based on his playing ability and his character.
  • Despite some juggling of responsibilities on his defensive staff, McCarthy said he's committed to sticking with a 3-4 defense -- albeit with some tweaks.
  • The Packers might have the most overqualified assistant special teams coach in the NFL with the addition of two-time former college head coach Ron Zook in that role. But both McCarthy and Zook see it as a good fit.
  • Finally, please join me in our weekly Packers chat at 4 p.m. ET (3 p.m. in Green Bay and the surrounding areas). You can submit questions ahead of time or do it in real time. Either way, it can be found by clicking here.
Best of the rest:
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause wrote that assistant head coach Winston Moss, whose role was expanded this offseason to coach both inside and outside linebackers, believes improvement on defense will come through technique and fundamentals rather than a change in scheme.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Silverstein wrote that Gash compared running back Eddie Lacy to Pro Football Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, who was Gash's teammate with the New England Patriots.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- On Monday, we began our rankings of the Green Bay Packers' roster as it stood at season’s end.

The rankings are based on how the players performed this season -- not on their overall importance to the team.

We started at the bottom of the roster and are working our way up.

Here are the previous installments:

Part 1 -- Nos. 51-64. Part 2 -- Nos. 41-50.

Now, we look at Nos. 31 through 40, a group that includes some potential up-and-coming playmakers and some high-priced veterans who failed to live up to their billing:

31. Andrew Quarless, TE: Returned after missing all of the 2012 season while recovering from a knee injury and was thrust into a starting role after Jermichael Finley's season-ending neck injury on Oct. 20. Played a career-high 741 snaps and also set personal bests with 32 catches for 312 yards and two touchdowns but never replicated Finley’s threat as a deep receiver despite catching the ball solidly (just two drops). Was challenged by position coach Jerry Fontenot to improve his blocking midway through the season. Scheduled to be a free agent, he could return but it likely won’t be in a starting role.

32. Davon House, CB: Inconsistent play caused him to get yanked out of all defensive packages for three late-season games until he was forced back into action in the playoff game against the 49ers after Sam Shields injured his knee. Allowed completions on 52.2 percent of times he was targeted, according to ProFootballFocus.com, and tied safety M.D. Jennings for a team-high five touchdowns allowed in coverage. Led the team in special teams tackles (12) and playing time.

33. Andy Mulumba, OLB: Made the team as an undrafted free agent and played more than anyone would have expected (31.8 percent of the defensive snaps) because of injuries to Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Registered only one sack and two quarterback hits and has a ways to go before he could be considered an impact player at one of the key positions in this defense.

34. Jamari Lattimore, LB: Played well in spot duty when starter Brad Jones got hurt on a couple of occasions, so well in fact that it was perplexing that the inconsistent Jones got his job back. Also was a key contributor on special teams. Scheduled to be a restricted free agent, he could be in for bigger role next season if he returns under one of the tenders.

35. Ryan Taylor, TE: Trusted special teams player saw more action on those units than all but one player (House) and had just one special teams penalty. Also saw his role on offense increase after Finley’s injury. A capable blocker but is limited as a receiver. Caught six passes, none went longer than 8 yards, and had a pair of drops.

36. Brad Jones, LB: Signed a three-year, $11.75 million contract last offseason but was the same inconsistent player. A decent interior blitzer (three sacks and four quarterbacl hits), but struggled in pass coverage and against the run. Might be replaced in the lineup next year depending on what acquisitions the Packers make.

37. Johnathan Franklin, RB: The rookie fourth-round pick opened the season as the No. 3 halfback behind Eddie Lacy and James Starks and didn’t get a single carry until both were unavailable in the second half against the Bengals in Week 3, when he rushed for 103 yards on 13 carries. Fumbled on a fourth-and-1 carry late in the game, and the Bengals returned it for the deciding touchdown. Carried just six more times the rest of the season before going on injured reserve because of a neck injury he sustained on Nov. 24. Also proved ineffective on kickoff returns before losing that job prior to his injury.

38. Sean Richardson, S: Came off the physically unable to perform list on Nov. 23 after recovering from neck surgery and split snaps with starter Jennings and generally out-performed him, especially against the run. Will have a chance to compete for the starting job next season. Also played extensively on special teams.

39. Morgan Burnett, S: Signed a four-year, $24.75 million contract extension last summer but failed to come up with the commensurate production. Start of the season was slowed by a preseason hamstring injury that kept him out the first three games. Failed to come up with an interception for the first time in his four NFL seasons and missed 11 tackles, second most on the team according to PFF. Allowed completions on a whopping 71.4 percent of the passes thrown at him and yielded four touchdowns. Former third-round pick was expected to be one of the Packers’ top players.

40. Josh Boyd, DE: Rookie fifth-round pick bypassed first-round pick Datone Jones late in the season, when he played 44.7 percent of the defensive snaps over the final six games to Jones’ 15.6 percent over the same stretch. Has the quickness and athleticism that could make him an effective pass-rusher, despite registering only one quarterback hit, if he adds some strength.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The ESPN.com NFL draft team has been hard at work assessing team-by-team needs and researching the players expected to be available for selection this May -- yes, it's hard to get used to saying the draft is in May.

On Thursday, those two exercises were married in the form of the team-by-team draft needs and possible ways those needs could be filled. Kevin Weidl handled the NFC North Insider and in doing so gives readers another reason to subscribe the ESPN Insider content.

But until you get signed up, here's a look at what Weidl sees for the Packers, who select 21st overall:

Biggest needs: Tight end, safety, defensive tackle.

My take: Tight end depends largely on what the Packers do with Jermichael Finley. He will be an unrestricted free agent in March, but it might not be known by then if he will be cleared to return from his neck injury. As Weidl pointed out, top backup Andrew Quarless also will be a free agent. With a half a season to prove himself, Quarless was steady although he wasn't the impact player that Finley was, which is why I asked tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot this week if he needs a playmaking tight end next season, whether it's Finley or someone else. “I would say so, yeah,” Fontenot said. "With the quarterback and running back that we have, yes.”

As for safety, that might be the Packers' greatest need. The Packers didn't have a single interception by a safety in 2013. While the Packers hope for improvement from Morgan Burnett, who signed a four-year, $24.75 million contract extension last July, they still need someone to play next to him.

On the defensive line, all three starters -- B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly -- will be free agents this offseason.

Other possible areas of need, depending on what happens in free agency, include inside linebacker, outside linebacker, backup quarterback and center.

Possible picks: Weidl wrote that the tight end class is “strong at the top, which includes UNC's Eric Ebron, Texas Tech's Jace Amaro and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who all could be in the mid-to-late first round mix.” ... At safety, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix “could be a viable option where the Packers are selecting if not Florida State's Terrence Brooks or Stanford's Ed Reynolds would be solid fits in the mid-rounds,” wrote Weidl. ... On the defensive line, Weidl wrote “Notre Dame DT Louis Nix III is an intriguing name and solid fit here. After an impressive 2012 season, Nix battled a knee injury for much of his senior season and his performance level dropped off a bit as a result. Coming into the season, Nix was heralded as a top-10 pick, but there is a chance he could still be on the board when the Packers are selecting. If the Packers elect to wait until later, Penn State DT Daquan Jones, Tennessee DT Dan McCullers and Connecticut's Shamar Stephen could all be in the mix in the Day 2 range.”

Packers get production from tight ends

December, 8, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Before Jermichael Finley's season-ending neck injury, fellow Green Bay Packers tight end Andrew Quarless marveled at Finley's penchant for breaking tackles and dragging defenders.

"When he left, I really wanted to match his intensity," Quarless said Sunday. "That's one of the things I told him in the hospital that day. I said he was playing with such intensity."

Before Sunday, though, Quarless was all talk.

In the first six games that followed Finley's injury against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 20, the Packers new starting tight end combined for just 13 catches for 102 yards without a touchdown.

That changed on Sunday. Quarless set career bests with six catches and 66 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard back-shoulder catch with 12:01 left in a much-needed 22-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field.

Quarless' performance came only days after his position coach, Jerry Fontenot, said he needed more from the fourth-year tight end, who has finally recovered from the 2011 knee injury that kept him out of all last season. Quarless had just one catch for 7 yards in the Thanksgiving loss at the Detroit Lions and also needed to improve as a blocker.

"Coming out of the last game on Thanksgiving, one of my biggest things me and him talked about was finishing," Quarless said. "I'm usually a good guy off the line but it takes four, five seconds every play, so you've really got to play every play all out. That was my approach, just really finishing. That was my biggest thing this week was to finish, and we finished with a win, thankfully."

That quarterback Matt Flynn went to Quarless on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the fourth quarter spoke volumes about the tight ends' role in Sunday's game plan.

"Andrew played a great game," said Flynn, who had 10 of his 24 completions to the tight ends. "When you've got teams that are locking on [receiver] Jordy [Nelson] and things like that, you've got to really utilize your tight ends. So, we gave them a chance to make plays, and they did it."

It wasn't just Quarless. Brandon Bostick caught two passes for 28 yards, including a 19-yard catch and run down the sideline in the second quarter. Ryan Taylor caught two passes for 7 yards.

As a position group, the Packers tight ends combined for 10 catches, 101 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. In the previous six games, they had just 20 catches, 206 yards and one touchdown.

"Jermichael's a hell of an athlete, a hell of a player, and it's tough to replace a guy like that," Taylor said. "But we have the talent in our room that we can put together a full game, and we can make an impact as a group. I don't know how many balls we caught today as a room -- I know I had two, Andrew had five or six, Bostick had two. If one tight end was catching 10, 11 balls, that would be a heck of a day."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It may be weeks or even months before any decision is made about the future of Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, but some sense of normalcy has returned for him.

Bush
Finley
A day after he was released from a local hospital, which included one night in the intensive care unit at Bellin Hospital, Finley returned to Lambeau Field for the first time since he was taken off on a stretcher during the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.

"I saw Jermichael this morning; he looks good," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Friday's practice. "Looked like a dang movie star walking in there with sunglasses. It was good to see him. [He had a] big smile on his face. It's great to have him back in the building."

Finley, who sustained a spinal bruise that led to a four-night hospital stay, is expected to undergo additional tests to determine whether he can return to the field. For now, Finley remains on the active roster although he has been ruled out of Sunday's game at the Minnesota Vikings.

"That information is being sent to the specialist, and then we'll have to make a decision at a certain time," McCarthy said.

The injury hit the Packers hard. Tight end Andrew Quarless, who was the first player to reach Finley after he went down, said he shed a tear when he realized Finley could not move shortly after the hit. Receiver Jordy Nelson had trouble speaking to reporters after the game without his eyes moistening.

"Just seeing [Finley] walk in here today, I think is what everybody needed to see," McCarthy said.

Finley did not make an appearance in the locker room while it was open to reporters.

The Packers did not have an issue with the hit, delivered by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson, and neither did the NFL. A league spokesman confirmed Friday that Gipson was not fined for the play, although he was penalized for what referee Jeff Triplette said was a helmet-to-helmet hit even though it appeared Gipson hit Finley with his shoulder.

"I thought it was clean," Packers tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. "It looked like the safety that was coming in to make the hit really did his best to keep his head out of it and it almost looked like, I couldn't tell what happened right there at that moment, but looking back at the tape, it looked like he almost turned his back to Jermichael and Jermichael's crown on his helmet hit the safety on the back of the shoulder. To me, it wasn't maliciously intended. He was just trying to make a play."

Starter Pack: Good news for Richardson

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
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A roundup of what’s happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Last season, Sean Richardson was a promising rookie prospect at the safety position and made the team as an undrafted free agent.

But late in the year, he sustained a neck injury that landed him on injured reserve.

Richardson
It was diagnosed as a herniated disc, the same injury that ended safety Nick Collins' playing career with the Packers in 2011. The fear was that Richardson would meet the same fate.

He underwent fusion surgery performed by Dr. Robert Watkins of Los Angeles, the same spinal specialist that operated on Peyton Manning. Richardson could not participate in any offseason practices or training camp and began this season on the physically unable to perform list.

But on Thursday, Richardson said he has been cleared by five specialists plus team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie.

“All of them cleared me, said it looked great, healing solid,” Richardson said on Thursday. “That was a blessing. And that’s what I needed, and that’s what the coaches wanted before they put me back out there. Now that that’s out of the way, now I’m just ready to put that helmet and shoulder pads back on.”

Richardson was cleared while Collins was not because, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Richardson’s injury was further down the spine.

Richardson said he does not have spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal column that can make spinal cord injuries more likely.

Although he remains on PUP, he is eligible to begin practicing any time before Week 11. If he does, he can practice for three weeks before the Packers have to activate him, put him on injured reserve or release him.

“We got great news on him this week,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I’m happy for Sean for what he’s been through. He looks great. We’ll see what happens.”

Elsewhere:
  • Our coverage from Thursday once again was heavy on tight end Jermichael Finley, who was released from the hospital, and his position coach, Jerry Fontenot, shared some of his thoughts on Finley’s neck injury. In other news, we looked at some impressive numbers and a sign of respect for the rookie running back Eddie Lacy and the running game and took a look at the Packers’ improved run defense, which is on a team record-setting pace.
  • The Packers were a unanimous choice to beat the Vikings on Sunday, according to the ESPN panel that picks every NFL game. Look for predictions from ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and me on Friday in our “Double Coverage” feature.
  • Goessling wrote about the Vikings' decision to start Christian Ponder on Sunday.
  • And you may have heard the St. Louis Rams called Brett Favre to see if he were interested in coming out of retirement at age 44. ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert offered some thoughts on that.
  • At ESPNWisconsin.com, Jason Wilde had more on Richardson’s situation.
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Weston Hodkiewicz wrote that tight ends Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick will see increased playing time in Finley’s absence. Running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said he planned to use James Starks, who is expected to return this week from a knee injury, and Johnathan Franklin more in order to keep Lacy fresh, according to Pete Dougherty’s notebook. Columnist Mike Vandermause believes receiver Greg Jennings’ decision to leave the Packers for the Vikings in free agency was a bad career move.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne posed a reasonable question: Can receiver Jarrett Boykin sustain what he started last Sunday, when he caught eight passes for 103 yards in his first NFL start?

 

Finley's injury tough for all involved

October, 24, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jerry Fontenot spent the last five seasons coaching from the press box on game days, far removed from the action. This season, though, the Green Bay Packers' tight-ends coach moved down to the sideline, where he’s able to do more hands-on coaching during games.

Yet he felt equally helpless on Sunday, when he walked to the middle of Lambeau Field during the fourth quarter of the game against the Cleveland Browns and saw Packers tight end Jermichael Finley unable to move after the hit he took from safety Tashaun Gipson.

“By that point, they had already taken off his facemask, so I knew it probably wasn’t good,” Fontenot said Thursday. “Again, I just tried to console him as best as I could in that moment. Anybody that knows Jermichael, he’s very a competitive and extremely enthusiastic person, and he was a little shaken by the whole thing.”

[+] EnlargeJermichael Finley
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesJermichael Finley's injury has left the Packers wanting to help him and his family, but also needing to replace him on the field.
Finley, who sustained a spinal contusion and faces an uncertain future, was released from the hospital on Thursday.

Fontenot, who has been Finley’s position coach the last two seasons, played 16 NFL seasons as an offensive lineman. He was in the same draft class (1989) with Dennis Byrd and Mike Utley, both of whom sustained career-ending neck injuries that left them paralyzed. Byrd learned to walk again. Utley did not.

“Unfortunately you get visions of injuries like that occurring and it’s always tough to see,” Fontenot said. “Whenever it’s one of the guys in your family, it’s really hard. We’ll all be here and be supportive, and hopefully there’s a gold pot at the end of the rainbow here. Sometimes through hardships good things come out of it.”

Fontenot might have the toughest job on the Packers’ coaching staff these days. He wants to be around Finley – and he has done that, visiting him in the hospital, where Fontenot said Finley “could laugh and joke and we would break down and cry a little bit” – and Finley’s wife, Courtney, who he said was “obviously very shaken” but “really did a great job; the whole family [did] supporting Jermichael.”

But Fontenot also is charged with preparing the remaining tight ends to play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings – and beyond.

Fourth-year pro Andrew Quarless likely will step into Finley’s starting role, but the Packers don’t have another tight end on their roster with the kind of dynamic athleticism Finley possesses. The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Finley ranked third on the team with 25 receptions for 300 yards and three touchdowns.

Sunday’s performance against the Browns was one of his most impressive. He caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. On his 10-yard scoring play, he caught a short drag route and broke four tackles on his way to the end zone.

“All week long we talked about the most important thing that we are in control of is yards after the catch and yards after the contact,” Fontenot said. “And you know, obviously he was on pace to do some really big things.”

As for Quarless, he showed some flashes in 2010 after Finley sustained a knee injury. As a rookie that season, Quarless caught 21 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown. His playing time decreased in 2011 before he blew out his knee, an injury that kept him out all of last season.

“I told [Finley] the way he was playing, I was inspired and that was one of the things I told him that night in the hospital, 'the way you’ve been playing the last couple of games really inspired me,'” Quarless said. “All I can really do as far as that is just try to match what he was doing for my teammates, for him, just for everybody, really try to match that intensity. The way he was playing was amazing, so I’m just going to try to match that.”

The remaining tight ends – Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner – have combined for six catches and 39 yards this season. Taylor isn’t expected to play this week because he is still recovering from knee surgery.

The 6-3, 250-pound Bostick, a former college receiver, is perhaps most like Finley in terms of body type and athletic ability.

“I view myself as like a younger Jermichael, but I don’t try to mimic him,” Bostick said. “I just try to do the best that I can do. I don’t try to match his game. I just try to be the best Brandon Bostick I can be.”

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