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Rodgers raves about Packers' 'deep' TE group

-- The tight end position has been something of an enigma in Green Bay the last few seasons, with the Packers failing to find just the right match in their offense.

In 2019, it appears like they'll have a bevy of suitors.

The Packers opened their minicamp slate on Tuesday in front of media spectators, giving the lesser-known Evan Baylis, the promising Jace Sternberger and the consummate professional in Jimmy Graham all a chance to flash before the pads come on this summer during training camp.

For now, it's about the mental part of the game; finding your place, honing in on your role and not making mistakes. That becomes especially significant when the cornerstone of your offense is someone as detail-oriented as quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

"The tight end room is very deep," Rodgers told after Tuesday's practice -- the first of three. 14-year veteran Marcedes Lewis wasn't present, but instead, was at UCLA finishing up his degree.

"Jimmy's made a ton of plays and Bobby's a very reliable guy, and Evan has done a nice job too, so there will be some great competition. I haven't taken a ton of reps with Jace, but the key for any young player is no repeat mistakes."

Sternberger, the Packers' third-round pick, just signed his rookie deal this week in time for minicamp. While attendance is mandatory, he and Rodgers haven't been able to get in as many reps as they'd like to up to this point. This could also further fuel the belief that Graham will provide more of an impact in the team's new offense than any other tight end on the roster.

The Packers drafted Sternberger under the premise that he's going to be their tight end of the future -- but for now, entering a position group led by Graham and Lewis couldn't have provided a better learning situation for the rookie.

In order to get to a point where he's able to contribute to the offense in such a fashion that he's projected as the team's starter, Sternberger has to take baby steps. For now, that's building a rapport with Rodgers on the practice field and showing that he's mastered the mental side of the game.

"I remember specifically, we had a certain concept and he made a mistake early on. Like, three days ago, we had the same concept and he learned from that mistake.

"That's what you want to see: that mental growth and aptitude in the offense. When you get in that situation, having that kind of click in and not making the same mistake twice. The tight end position, much like the offensive line position, when you put the pads on, things change. So I'll be looking forward to seeing how things adjust when we get the pads on in training camp."

Under the watch of new head coach Matt LaFleur, the tight end position is expected to undergo something of a rebirth. That means creative play designs centered around scheming players open and making Rodgers' job as easy as possible.

For many teams through the years, the modern tight end has been a security blanket -- an outlet. Rodgers may finally be able to have one of his own shortly.

This also means an expanded role for Lewis, who saw just four receiving targets through 16 games in 2018.

The Packers claimed tight end Pharoah McKever off of waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars on Tuesday as well, likely fill the roster spot opened up by Davis Koppenhaver's retirement last week.


Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (56) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

4thand1's picture

Keep 12 happy and upright. We now have a Pharoah, king of TE's.

Doug_In_Sandpoint's picture

And we have King...Pharaoh of CBs.

Barazinho's picture

And Kingsley, the King of the DL (and a member of the Order too)

MarkinMadison's picture

We'll have to wait and see if Jimmah and A-A-Ron can get it together this year. Jace needs to aim to be ready to step in for Jimmah by week 8. That's my over/under for Jimmah on the year.

Dzehren's picture

Sounds like QB1 is buying into MFL’s new offense.
TE position scheme wise is being completely revamped which was sorely needed.

Coldworld's picture

I am pleased that Lewis is going to have a larger role (he could hardly have a lesser one). This means that the concept of a blocking TE that can catch, provide an emergency or surprise outlet and help in the run game and pass protection still lives. Good!

In Pharoah McKeever the Pack just brought in a player with the characteristics to make him a candidate to carry such a role into the future. I see him as a PS candidate. 260 pound willing blocker converted from WR via DE! Needs refinement but indicates an interest in extending the Lewis type role beyond this year at least.

dobber's picture

"For now, it's about the mental part of the game; finding your place, honing in on your role and not making mistakes."

Sorry, Zach. Pet peeve of mine, and it was in an article yesterday, too.

x24's picture

Glad I am not the only one... You "home" in on a target, you "hone" an inclined plane to make it sharper

Coldworld's picture

Honing is derived from a Middle English usage for an object used to create a very sharp edge, drawing from an Old English and Norse term for a stone since the tool used for honing was typically a whetstone.

Since then the verb has accrued two long established meanings. One meaning is a synonym for sharpening a physical edge or point, but the other is to refine or perfect (something) over a period of time.

The use of the verb here is therefore legitimate: it is correct to say that he has honed his role in the sense of refining or perfecting it. However, the insertion of “in” is erroneous. One hones a role one does not hone in on it.

Now, back to homing in on the Packers prospects!

BoCallahan's picture

Dissecting the Packers and the journalists at the same time! It must be the off season.

egbertsouse's picture

As evidenced by that great cowboy knife sharpening song, “ Hone on the Range” or that southern sugar cane knife sharpening song, “ Sweet Hone, Alabama.”

Bart_Starred's picture

Kind of reminds me of that great HOF running back we had back in the 60’s...Paul Honing.

dobber's picture

<<tips hat>>

Coldworld's picture

Hone no! Not again!

Barazinho's picture


marpag1's picture

grammer we done need no stinkin grammer we's riters n stuf

cheesycowboy's picture

JS contract holdout until mandatory participation strikes me odd as an unproven college TE.

RCPackerFan's picture

I do think Graham has a bigger year. How big, we will have to wait and see. But I think he will have a lot more TD's and will be more productive overall.

Lewis I think could have a bigger impact in this offense then last year.

Sternberger I think will get some playing time, I just don't think he will have a big impact his rookie year. Now I do think he could have some big plays. He has that ability, and he could be used in certain packages. I just don't expect a big year from him. He will be developed for next year and beyond.

I'm curious to see where Big Bob Tonyan is at this year. Could he take a step?

Coldworld's picture

Rodgers said he,“Bobby”, was “a very reliable guy.” Normally i’d wonder if that was faint praise, but in Rodgers speak that’s high praise in that it suggests he is developing the kind of trust that gets a player the ball I think.

greengold's picture

No doubt. It is entirely possible we keep 4 TEs on the roster this season.

Samson's picture

Again, sorry, RC.... This isn't the MM Packers of old.--- MLF & his coaches are now running the show in GB. --- If Sternberger is the best player at TE for MLF's system, then he will be on the field.

As Willie would say....."the old days are dead & gone."

Scrum's picture

JS is not and will not be the best TE on the roster for MLF system. Maybe in the future, but certainly not in 2019.

Jonathan Spader's picture

I was JS first lol

marpag1's picture

In the football dictionary, "deep" is an adjective which often has this meaning: "Having a whole crap-load of players, and none of them really stand out as extraordinary or distinguish themselves as being better than the others."

I hope someone steps up.

4zone's picture

I wouldn't mind the Rookie having only limited participation this year, if it results from a significant uptick from Graham, Lewis and Tonyan, and not from his own mistakes. Let him build a Solid foundation that will help him develop into a perennial pro-bowler. 4-5 40 yard + TD catches should do nicely . . .

jannes bjornson's picture

Sternberger will be ahead of Tonyan by the end of t camp.

Scrum's picture

i'd put that about 10%

Scrum's picture

i'd put that about 10%

sam1's picture

Lets hope they can block and more utilized this year, 2 big steps forward if accomplished!

PackfanNY's picture

The first step to Jimmy Graham having a better year is to actually throw to the guy. I don’t think he or the TE position was utilized in last years offense.

I also think Sternberger will have more impact than some think. However, it will be strictly in receiving situations as I suspect his blocking skills are a work in process. He is a guy who can catch the ball and Rodgers is someone who will find guys who can catch and make them look better than they are while doing it.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Graham got 89 targets last year. That's more than he deserved, in my opinion, but if the team is going to throw 644 times, the ball has to go somewhere. For comparison, the most targets Jermichael Finley ever got was 92 (2011). Finley and Quarless combined got 87 in 2013. TE targets wasn't out of line for a McCarthy team.

I'd like to see the TE group get more targets in 2019. I'd like to see Lewis get 25 more targets, and expect Tonyan and Sternberger get 40 more. I can't say I want Graham to get more targets, unless I am eating crow (always a decent possibility) and Graham blossoms.

Freezn's picture

with our new offensive line I believe Aron will have more time to throw and apposing defenses will be hard pressed to stop Aron

Gort's picture

Who is Aron?

LeotisHarris's picture

That's not important right now, Gort. Just step back, please, we all need to appreciate Freezn while he's in the zone.

Gort's picture

Got it.

Let him dig as deep as he wants.
Give him plenty of rope.

Cubbygold's picture

"Sternberger, the Packers' third-round pick, just signed his rookie deal this week in time for minicamp. While attendance is mandatory, he and Rodgers haven't been able to get in as many reps as they'd like to up to this point"

I don't understand how this is possible. This guy was drafted 6 weeks ago. As a rookie, you should be available the second Aaron Rodgers wants to work with you. There's no injury holding him back that I'm aware of. Is it that it took too long to get a deal in place?

End of the day, this won't cost GB a superbowl, but its an avoidable mistake and those add up over time.

Coldworld's picture

In all fairness, other than Savage, the rookies have not been running with the ones yet. That likely makes sense. The vets should have an easier time adjusting to the new installs.

It makes sense to run the newer players together therefore. I think that is in part why we have seen some longer tenured back of the roster types getting snaps with the ones and twos at times, rather than higher rated prospects.

Until the pads go on, this is about learning where to be. There is no real contest in shorts. That comes in camp. The goal is that, by then, the rookies should have at least basic familiarity with the playbook and concepts such that they are ready to begin to show their mettle. That’s when Rodgers needs to be getting time with Sternberger and co.

Cubbygold's picture

Got it, so I'm reading that statement far too literally. They've likely gotten exactly as many reps together as they'd like to, given the circumstances.

sonomaca's picture

Wow, you really have the coach speak down.

dobber's picture

TGR would be able to speak to this more meaningfully, but it's an artifact of the current CBA in that third round draft picks run into issues crafting contracts. I'm not sure anymore if it's offset language or what, but as you look around the league it's more often than not third round picks that are the last to sign.

IceBowl's picture


Right. The CBA/NFL reportedly muddled 3rd round players contract variables. So they take the longest to sort out, given the priorities of the teams.

It will be a topic in the next CBA I'm sure.

greengold's picture

Sternberger has been participating in all Minicamp practices. I think it is more a matter of him lining up with the #2 or #3 O vs. with Rodgers and the 1s.

I do think Jace will be getting some throws from Aaron before too long. Might make an impact later in the season.

stockholder's picture

The ability to stretch the field is the key. Who can, and who can't. You guys know Rodgers likes stats, and looks deep. Tonyan must show he can. Lewis can't. But is a better fit. Sternberger only needs to get Rodgers confidence. Packers keep 3. And keep 7 Wrs.

Coldworld's picture

I think that keeping 4 is a real possibility if they intend to run two tight end sets where neither are Lewis. I suspect they will and that Lewis, as you suggest, might not be a great fit in those. That would suggest 3 TEs plus Lewis on the roster.

To complicate it further, will they keep a FB? Vitale has great hands but his blocking didn’t blow me away last year. In some ways, however, he is the only candidate I can see being potentially able to replace Lewis in the event of a ding. Graham isn’t a blocker, Sternberger needs refining and Tonyan as well.

It’s going to be a really interesting shake out in camp this year.

fthisJack's picture

4 on it.

stockholder's picture

Age says No. Bobby maybe dependable. But he's still on the bubble. Graham is #1. Lewis is aging.(bubble) Bobby must show he's his equal. The camp battle is Lewis or Bobby! Jace was drafted to high. Forget the cut. They wanted better then bobby, in Jace. Your Wrs. Adams, MVS, St. Brown, Kumerow, Allison, Moore, and Davis. Davis wins over the 4th TE. Why? Game breaker, returner, WR. Davis has better trade value. He only needs to stay on the field. ( As with them all.) They keep the extra RB on the PS.

Coldworld's picture

The counter argument is that Graham and Lewis will likely be gone next year. Therefore there is a pipeline question as well as a current need one. This is a multiple TE offense by the looks of it.

jannes bjornson's picture

Four TEs will be on the crew at the end of summer camp. Six Wide outs.
How many QBs do you keep? I'm still pushing more depth for the D line and carry seven, or do the fans want to forget about the breakdowns on D. when Daniels and Clark went down in 2018?

Doug Niemczynski's picture

yeah,yeah,sure,sure...we shall see...

Coldworld's picture

Only if we open our eyes and minds. Get into it Doug. The most competitive camp in a generation brings the greatest opportunity for surprise and disappointment. It’s going to be fun!

hobowilly's picture

"Under the watch of new head coach Matt LaFleur, the tight end position is expected to undergo something of a rebirth. That means creative play designs centered around scheming players open and making Rodgers' job as easy as possible". Folks, i've written before (sorry to repeat), MM just didn't know what to do with the TE talent last year....shoot, JG had an okay year, Kendricks turned out better than some anticipated, Lewis wasn't used very much, why? and obviously MM's play calling and schemes were too predictable)!!! I am really hyped to see what a new group of eager coaches and a handful of FA's and draftees can do. Frankly, it looked to me that GB had targeted Jace weeks before the draft for many reasons--key was where they were expecting to get him....AND, they did! Don't sleep on Tonyan--Packers keep 4 TE's....I pray they use the M benz more! Again, MM clueless on how to use Lewis and unless it's an absolute fact he was hurt beyond playing, i stand by my observation

LeotisHarris's picture

Say, there. You the same Hobo Willy I jumped the eastbound C&O with back in the day? If'n so, ya still owe me a half a can o' beans!

sonomaca's picture

That’s some nerve to say Mike McCarthy was clueless about TE’s! Yeah, he completely failed with Bubba Franks, Donald Lee, Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, Richard Rodgers. and Jared Cook!

chaka's picture

Packers should see if they can resign Colt Lyerla.

4thand1's picture

He's in prison.

Adorabelle's picture

Jimmy Graham had 55 catches for 636 yards and everyone including him thinks it was a poor season. And everyone also thinks the Packer offense was woeful last season. So a better offense and a better season for Graham is where? 800 yards? 6 td's? Where is his ceiling at this point in his career?

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