Friday, July 23, 2010

CCQ #8: Who's in at tight end?

This is the fifth installment of our Camp Countdown Questions series. Each day leading up to July 31st, we'll be posing a crucial question the Pack need to answer in training camp.

If three's company, what does that make four? That's the question Ted Thompson will have to answer as he looks at the Packers' current TE situation. As we've discussed previously, the addition of Andrew Quarless to a group that already features Jermichael Finley, Donald Lee, and Spencer Havner means that one of the above mentioned players could be out of a job in the near future.

Of the four, Finley appears to be the only lock to make the team. So what do the rest need to do in order to increase their chances of making the cut?

As a rookie with some promising upside, it looks like Quarless' chances to make the team are second best. He's struggled in OTA's thus far, but will have a solid opportunity to prove himself in camp. He doesn't need to wow the coaches, but he needs to make them feel like keeping him around will be an investment that could pay-off later.

That leaves Lee and Havner. If either of these two are searching for a possible blueprint to follow, they should look no further than what FBs John Kuhn and Korey Hall did last year. After the Packers selected Quinn Johnson in the 2009 NFL Draft, Kuhn and Hall had their backs to the wall. It appeared almost certain that one of them would be cut.

But both Kuhn and Hall stuck around, in large part due to their contributions on special teams. This type of versatility is what Lee and Havner should be aiming for as they attempt to beat each other out for that last roster spot.

Havner is certainly familiar with this type of role. Making plays on special teams is his bread and butter, and it allowed him to catch on with the Packers in the first place, well before he proved himself as a serviceable back-up.  Lee, too, has a special teams pedigree. With his days as the starting TE apparently over, he doesn't seem to have problems with changing his role and helping the team out in whatever capacity he can.
Of course, as I talked about on Wednesday, Johnson's own unpreparedness to take on a big role played an important part in the Packers' decisions to retain both Kuhn and Hall. And in a lot of ways, that could be true for Havner and Lee this season. If Quarless proves completely incapable of even serving as third option, the Packers could opt to keep all four TEs or even cut Quarless outright.

But if I were either Lee or Havner, I wouldn't be counting on either of those possibilities. Anytime you have to depend on someone else screwing up, you haven't done enough for yourself. Lee and Havner's best bet is to follow the lead of Kuhn and Hall and make themselves as useful as possible.

In fact, though Havner and Lee are TEs and Hall and Kuhn are FBs, the futures of these four players could be very much entwined. People (myself included) often make the mistake of thinking that there is some set number of players you can keep at a certain position, as if it's written in stone somewhere. In reality, a 53 man roster is much more fluid than we often realize. Things aside from simple positional value must be taken into account. Forming solid special teams units is one of them. It's very likely that while Lee and Havner may be competing against each other as tight ends, they'll also be competing against Kuhn and Hall as special teams contributors.

At the same time, I feel Havner and Lee have an advantage, for the simple reason that TE is a more valuable position than FB. Yes, Ted Thompson would like to hold on to guys that can be special teams stalwarts, but he'd probably prefer to retain guys that can do other things as well. Green Bay will either hold on to 4 TEs or 3 FBs, but not both. I'm inclined to think the first option is more likely.

At the end of the day, the Packers are going to keep guys who can contribute in a number of ways. If Donald Lee and Spencer Havner can prove to be useful players with a variety of "tools," it's very likely that the Packers retain both of them. This is especially true if Andrew Quarless is only able to make a minimal impact. Judging by his comments in a recent article, Lee seems to have the right mentality:
 "I've never been a selfish player. I've always put the team first. I just want to do whatever it takes to help the team win the game. If that's playing special teams, I'm going to be an impact guy on special teams this year if that's what I have to do...If they want me to block, you better believe that's what I'm going to get done. If they want me to catch touchdowns, I'm going to get that done as well. I'm just going to continue to work hard, do whatever they ask me to do with a smile on my face and with great effort."

Nice words, Donald. Now let's see how it plays out.

Make sure to check out all other installments of the Camp Countdown Questions series!


  1. Hey J. If the 53 man roster is "fluid" and it's more about talent and fits on special teams, and there's no magic number of players to keep in certain positions, how do you conclude that the Packers won't keep 4 TEs and 3 FBs. I mean, which is it?

  2. It's a bit of both. It's fluid to an extent. There needs to be a balance between STs and positional value. It's not all one or the other. That's why keeping 3 FBs last year was plausible, but keeping 4 or 5 would be absurd. Also, because FBs and TEs generally play the same roles on STs, I doubt we'd see the Pack keep a total of 7 players at those two positions, simply because the lack of positional value would not be justified by the STs boost. Balance is the key.

  3. I honestly think Havner is an absolute lock assuming he's healthy. I don't see them getting rid of a guy who can play on every side of the ball. Heck, Jarrett Bush is on the team solely because of his special teams play. Keeping a guy like Havner allows the Packers to keep a couple roster spots open for luxury players since he's so versatile. If Quarless still has a case of the drops in camp, his days are numbered. If he gets everything figured out, I think Donald Lee is the odd man out. I guess I could see them keeping all 4, but that might hinge on Quinn Johnson's ability to contribute more, which is basically what you said.

  4. Bob, this will be something we can debate in camp (in fact, that's a good idea for a feature). I used to think that Havner had the upper hand, but now I'm in Lee's corner. For 3 reasons:

    1) Havner is not nearly as good of an overall TE. He made some splashes last year but lets be real.
    2) Quarless isn't ready. He could stick on the roster but it doesnt look like he'll be a bigtime contributor
    3) Finley may get injured, like he did last year.

    If that happens, who do you want stepping in? A converted linebacker? A rookie? I'll take Lee, the proven commodity.

    The only way my opinion would shift dramatically is if Quarless somehow has a huge camp/preseason and proves himself capable of coming in right away.

    Anyway, I'm sure we'll talk more about this later.

  5. I am a huge Spencer Havner fan but I completely agree with Jonathan about him just making splashes receiving the ball. Nearly all of his catches last year were touchdown catches and while that is good and all somehow I don't think that it'd be that difficult to replace him. He has solid hands and alright blocking abilities but so do a lot of people. Offensively I don't see him as big of a threat as Donald Lee. Donald had a big drop in production last year but I don't see this as the writing on the wall for him. I expect him to regroup and beat out everyone else for the number two tight end spot. And if he isn't able to beat Havner or Quarless than I still see value in keeping a loyal, hard-working, team-first veteran on one of the youngest teams in the league (not sure if we can still say that even though it's worked for the last 2 or 3 years)