GREEN BAY – The reason Mike McCarthy has always loved Jermichael Finley – in addition to the Green Bay Packers head coach’s fatherly affinity for the 6-foot-5, 247-pound tight end – is an offensive philosophy that dates back to his days as an assistant coach running his first NFL offense.
“I learned this in New Orleans,” explained McCarthy, who after a one-year stint as the Packers’ quarterbacks coach under Ray Rhodes became the New Orleans Saints’ offensive coordinator from 2000 through 2004. “I think anytime you have a chance to build an offense and develop schemes, a base principle of mine has always been the fastest way to the end zone is through the middle of the field. So, having big athletic body types to win in front of the quarterback is vital to the success of a high-powered offensive passing game, in my opinion.
“I don’t think you can have enough, whether it’s a big receiver or an athletic tight end.”
With Finley’s NFL future in limbo – despite him saying Wednesday that he’s feeling great and wants to return to Green Bay – the closest approximation to the matchup problem Finley created for opposing defenses is 6-foot-3, 250-pound Brandon Bostick, who has a not-so-grand total of seven career NFL receptions, all of which came last year, before a foot injury that required surgery ended his season.
“Brandon’s got to be a consistent player on offense,” McCarthy said this spring, after Bostick gained medical clearance to begin practicing again. “His body type is definitely a challenge for the opponent with some of the things he’s able to do, particularly his ability to get down the field in coverage. So I think he definitely took a step last year and I’d like to see him do the same. I thought he came on strong right before his injury, playing tight end. I thought he did some good things blocking.”
With training camp less than three weeks away, there isn’t a position on the roster more unsettled than tight end. De facto starter Andrew Quarless, whom the team re-signed to a two-year, $3 million contract in March, missed every organized team activity and minicamp practice with an undisclosed injury. The team’s other two returning tight ends, Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner, have yet to show much on offense. And rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers and undrafted rookie free agent Colt Lyerla, while athletic, are newbies.
“I think this is a big time [opportunity]. Not only for me, but everybody,” Bostick said after the final minicamp practice. “When I come back [for training camp], I want to be the starter.”
He has as good a chance as anyone. Two years ago, he came to the post-draft rookie orientation camp on a tryout basis as a converted basketball player from tiny Newberry College and later earned an undrafted rookie deal. He spent all of 2012 on the practice squad, then made the team coming out of training camp last year as the fourth tight end. All of his production – seven receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown – came after Finley went down with a career-threatening neck injury on Oct. 20. According to Pro Football Focus, Bostick was targeted 14 times in his 144 offensive snaps last season. His three drops all came against Minnesota on Nov. 24.
“I thought Brandon made some real strides by the end of the season. 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,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “The more reps that Brandon gets, the better off he’s going to be.”
With a measure of uncertainty at wide receiver following the offseason departure of James Jones – McCarthy’s preferred personnel group in passing situations last season consisted of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jones, Finley and a back when they were all healthy – finding a suitable pass-catching tight end is vital. If Finley does not return, although Quarless is likely the team’s best all-around tight end, Bostick appears to be the team’s best option in the passing game.
But he’s aiming higher than that.
“Last year, I was more focused on making the team and doing the little stuff. Now, I’m focused on, I want to be the starter. I want to be that guy,” Bostick said. “Everything I’m doing right now [is because] I want to be the starter.
“I think I can accomplish anything I want to. If I’m not the starter, I’ll do whatever they tell me to. Special teams last year, I was good on special teams. I just go out there and be the best I can.”
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