Andrew Quarless has a thought for a new tattoo — one that reads “humble and hungry.”
If nothing else, 2011 certainly has been humbling for the second-year tight end.
A season-ending knee injury to Jermichael Finley in 2010 elevated Quarless to starter throughout the Super Bowl run. He wasn’t the threat Finley is, but the fifth-round draft pick caught 21 balls for 238 yards and a touchdown.
Quarless has since watched the organization add two tight ends (bringing the total to five). He missed chunks of training camp with a hip flexor and a groin injury suffered in the preseason opener against the Browns, then missed Weeks 5 and 6 with a knee sprain. It’s not even certain he will be active each week.
The Packers come off the bye at 7-0 with a trip to San Diego this weekend as Quarless sits with one reception for 21 yards.
“Throughout my whole life, I never really rode the bench,” Quarless said. “Now to kind of be playing a background role, it makes me stronger as a person. I’m very confident in my ability on the field. That’s one of the things that keeps me motivated and keeps me striving.
“You know you’re a pretty good player and you’re going to get better. … That’s kind of the way I look at it.”
Quarless, a natural receiving tight end, has put a premium on the development of an all-around game — a better understanding of the playbook, blocking and special teams. But the lone reception easily was his highlight of the season — and not just because of the catch.
Quarless lined up wide, outside of James Jones and Finley, and motioned in toward the line. The ball was snapped and Quarless threw a crack-back block that took out Vikings defensive end Jared Allen before getting into his route. The play broke down and Quarless made eye contact with Aaron Rodgers, who rolled right and eventually found the tight end in stride for a 21-yard gain.
“It really affected Allen throughout the game,” Quarless said. “After that play, he was really worried about any tight end lining up over him.
“It just felt good to have the ball in my hands. I’ve been doing a lot of the dirty work, a lot of the blocking — which I accept. I’m trying to perfect that craft, but it feels good to have that ball in your hands.”
Catching the ball was never the issue with Quarless. But as long as Finley wears a Packers uniform, Quarless will not be the primary offensive tight end. Finley has 25 receptions while the four other tight ends have four combined.
“I’m doing a lot of the dirty work, behind the scenes work like an offensive lineman, but at the end of the day, it’s all part of your profession,” Quarless said. “I just try to take it in stride and get better at whatever I’m doing.
“I don’t think it’s been an adjustment. In college I did a fair share of blocking, so it’s not something I’m not used to. … At the end of the day, I want to be a tight end that doesn’t have to come off the field. I want to be the versatile tight end that can block like a tackle and then run a route like a receiver.”
Tight ends coach Ben McAdoo explained how Quarless had to increase his knowledge on the basics of blocking. Being a tall (6-foot-4) and lean player hurts him leverage-wise. So, he’s put on about 10 pounds of muscle and has focused on pad level and technique.
“He has grown since (2010) and is working to become a complete player,” McAdoo said. “I think he just has a better understanding of the fundamentals.
“Just overall feel of the game. When you understand more and know more and you work on learning, it helps clarify things. The more you know, the faster you can play. That goes a long way because he’s a big strong man.”
Coach Mike McCarthy added: “I think he’s probably one of the better on-the-line tight ends in that group. He does a good job moving, going into the backfield sets and also is athletic enough to go to the displaced formations. We’re very encouraged with his development. He’s definitely improved from last year.”
The single reception was the perfect example. Quarless motioned, blocked, got into his route, made himself available once the play broke down, caught the ball with his hands and picked up more yardage with his feet. And now, he has the tape of roughing up one of the generation’s top pass rushers.
“That Jared Allen was definitely a moment in my career,” Quarless said. “That’s one of the greats. He was pretty mad. He was actually looking for me, I heard. I went off the next play and he thought J-Mike hit him. He didn’t know who hit him. When he found out it was me, he was pointing to me on the sideline.
“I came on the field two plays later and he said, ‘Oh that’s what you do? Cheap shot?’ I said, ‘Wake up, bro. Eighty-one is out here. It’s simple. Wake up. It’s all fun, it’s all part of the game. Watch out for 81. Eighty-one is lurking.’”
Eighty-one is humbly lurking on the roster, resembling a lineman more than a pass catcher during the first eight weeks. He’s not 100 percent recovered from the knee injury, but there’s no time to rest when the meeting room is filled with four other skilled tight ends. The role calls for Quarless to be more nasty than fancy at the moment and he admitted there have been frustrating moments.
Regardless, a hunger for the ball and a more complete role in the offense remains.
“There’s so much I want to show them,” Quarless said of the coaching staff. “It’s really about that hunger right now. Right now I’m starving. I need to eat. I gotta eat.
“I want to be the best. If you want to be the best, it takes a lot.”