Andrew Quarless didn’t even want to think about it, which was understandable given the circumstances.
But with his fellow Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley’s condition improving Monday – Finley, who suffered a frightening neck injury during Sunday’s victory over Cleveland, left the intensive care unit of an area hospital Monday afternoon – the reality will have to sink in at some point: With Finley presumably sidelined for at least the short term – and perhaps long-term – Quarless becomes the most experienced tight end on the roster and one of three players at the position who’ll be counted on starting with Sunday night’s game at Minnesota.
The Packers are also likely to be without tight end Ryan Taylor, who suffered a knee injury against Baltimore on Oct. 13 and underwent arthroscopic surgery last Wednesday to repair it. Coach Mike McCarthy had said that Taylor would miss “a couple weeks” because of the injury, but McCarthy suggested Monday that there might be a chance Taylor returns this week. The Packers return to practice on Wednesday.
The remaining tight ends on the roster are Quarless, who missed all of the 2012 season with the knee injury he suffered Dec. 4, 2011 in a game against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands; first-year player Brandon Bostick, who spent last season on the practice squad; and undrafted rookie free agent Jake Stoneburner, who was called up from the practice squad to the 53-man roster last week.
The Packers chose not to re-sign restricted free-agent tight end Tom Crabtree, who ended up with Tampa Bay, and released 2011 fifth-round pick D.J. Williams, who now plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars, at the end of training camp.
“I mean we have three good tight ends. It's important to define roles for those guys,” McCarthy said Monday. “You never want to put too much on a young guy's plate. So we're not going to just go out there and say ‘Hey, we're going to ask you to do the things that Jermichael Finley did.’ That won't be the case.
“Also, Ryan Taylor is pushing, coming back strong, so we'll see what he gives us potentially this week. So, we'll be ready to go.”
Quarless admitted he was so shaken by what he saw after Finley went down that he needed his coaches to snap him out of it in order to keep playing. Of the Packers’ 71 offensive plays Sunday, Finley played 44, Quarless played 31, Bostick played eight and Stoneburner played two.
“Right now, the playing time, that’s irrelevant to me. I don’t care,” Quarless, who was the first player to get to Finley after the play, said immediately following the game. “I just want him to get better. We’ll see. We’ll see.”
While Finley’s long-term health is most important, the sixth-year tight end, who is also in the final year of his contract, was playing very well at the time of his injury. He caught all five passes thrown to him for 72 yards and a touchdown against the Browns and through six games has 25 receptions for 300 yards and three touchdowns.
Quarless, meanwhile, has four catches for 28 yards, Taylor has two receptions for 11 yards, and Bostick and Stoneburner have yet to record a reception.
“For sure I’m ready. I don’t think they called me up for me not to be ready,” Stoneburner said. “They kept me around here for a reason. You know, I didn’t play special teams in college, so I don’t think they wanted me because I can run around and make tackles. That’s not really my forte. I love doing it, but I think they brought me up hopefully to make an impact on this offense. Now with Jermichael down, who knows?”
The most intriguing player is Bostick, who earned a contract as a tryout player at the team’s post-draft rookie orientation camp in 2012 and stuck on the practice squad last season. The Newberry College product has similar size (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) and speed as Finley (6-5, 247) and spent the summer doing his best Finley imitation. Their jersey numbers (Bostick is No. 86, Finley No. 88) could even cause the occasional moment of confusion on catches during practice. Bostick played in a very simple offense at the Division II school, so perhaps his biggest improvement has been in learning the playbook over the past year and a half.
“They’re both big and athletic. Jermichael’s a little bigger and a little stronger right now, obviously has more experience than Brandon does (but) there are some similar qualities,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “But he’s a young guy still developing.
“(Bostick) played well in his limited time in the game yesterday. He’s gotten better as time has gone along. He’s been playing a lot of special teams, he’s doing well there, so I’m sure that helps his confidence. He just needs to carry it over to the offensive side of the ball.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.