Aaron's Answers: Why passing games are valuing TEs

Aaron Nagler
Packers News
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Throughout the offseason, I’ll be answering reader questions in a weekly mailbag here at PackersNews.com. If you’d like to submit a question in the future, just email me atanagler@gannett.com.

Another open OTA practice in the books and we are one step closer to football season. In the meantime, you have questions about the Green Bay Packers and I, your humble correspondent, am here to do my best in answering them.

Away we go.

From Jeff Dougherty:

I seem to recall MM saying something like rule changes have made TE a premier position. Could you tell me what those changes were?

Aaron’s Answer:

My guess is that you’re referencingthe quote from the owners meetings when Mike McCarthy said:

The tight end position is clearly underrated on some levels in my view. I’ve always looked at the left tackle position and quarterback position as the two primary positions on offense. I really think tight end is pushing the envelope on that. Just with today’s game, with the rules changes that have occurred here in the last five, six, seven, eight years, the middle of the field is open. That’s a lot tougher area to defend with bigger, athletic men at the tight end position. So I think the premium on that position is obvious.

I wouldn’t presume to answer for McCarthy, but I can tell you that the current champions, the New England Patriots, certainly seem to share his view when it comes to the tight end position. After deciding to let Martellus Bennett depart in free agency, they didn’t waste any time restocking the shelves by trading for tight ends Dwayne Allen and James O'Shaughnessy.

As for the rules changes McCarthy is talking about, one thing that leaps to mind when talking about the middle of the field is the stricter enforcement of penalties for hitting defenseless receivers.

It’s hard enough for linebackers and safeties to match up athletically with some of the premier guys at the tight end position, and now you’re asking them to reduce their strike zone while trying to bring down a 6-6, 275-pound tight end (Martellus Bennett’s measurements) flying over the middle of the field? Good luck.

There’s also the emphasis on defensive holding that has made it even harder for less-athletic linebackers to stick with these physical freaks down the middle of the field.

This development is one reason why you’re starting to see teams like the Cardinals, Panthers and now, yes, the Packers start to utilize more safeties in what have traditionally been linebacker roles in nickel and dime defenses, as a way to combat this issue, but it’s still a tough ask when the rules clearly tilt toward the offensive side of the ball.

From Gavin Peters:

I know it's early to call, but who do you think makes the biggest "second-year jump" this season? Last year one could argue it was Ty Montgomery or Jake Ryan. I'm thinking Kenny Clark, Kyler Fackrell, Blake Martinez or Dean Lowry all have potential to make big strides in development.

Aaron’s Answer:

This has been a popular question during my Facebook Live chats but I’d thought I’d answer it here as well.

I agree with your candidate list there, Gavin, and I think most observers are indeed expecting a big jump from Kenny Clark, given his play down the stretch last season.

I tend to think Lowry gets lost in this discussion due to the position he plays, but make no mistake, if you go back and watch him the last four or five games of the season, he played pretty darn well.

As you say, it’s early and there’s a lot of offseason left to play out, but those two guys probably are my two favorites to make big, noticeable jumps in their second years.

From Matt Kronzer:

Do you believe that if a 3rd WR doesn't jump off the field at us this year, that GB would be committing a positional domino suicide if they were to allow Davante Adams to walk? Especially given Jordy Nelson’s age? Or, you don't break the bank, next man up?

Aaron’s Answer:

That’s an awfully dramatic image there, Matt.

I’d be surprised if they “broke the bank” for Adams any more than they did for Nelson or Randall Cobb, who signed pretty team-friendly deals compared to what some of their peers were able to get on the open market.

Ultimately, it will come down to Adams a) producing again this season and b) deciding if he wants to continue to be part of one of the league’s best offenses with one of the league’s best quarterbacks or if he wants to see if he can break the bank in free agency and possibly end up in a less-favorable situation.

There’s nothing wrong with either choice, mind you. I always say players should get as much as they can, when they can. But both Nelson and Cobb recognized the special situation they were in. I tend to think Adams will as well.

That said, if Adams turns out to be determined to hit the market and ends up leaving, the Packers won’t panic. They’ll just keep drafting and developing, as they always have under Ted Thompson.

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