Tight end in battle for roster berth after return from concussion

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Justin Perillo knows what could be at stake Thursday when he takes the field for the Green Bay Packers’ final preseason game against the New Orleans Saints.

Perillo’s bid to make the Packers’ roster as a backup to tight ends Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless took a hit in the preseason opener at New England, when the 24-year-old native of Wilmington, Del., suffered a concussion that sidelined him for two weeks. He missed the second preseason game at Pittsburgh and played sparingly against Philadelphia last Saturday.

Although the Packers cut tight end Harold Spears on Tuesday, Perillo — an undrafted free agent in 2014 who made the practice squad and was promoted to the 53-man roster last October — is competing against rookie sixth-round draft pick Kennard Backman and non-drafted rookie Mitchell Henry. Backman caught a 4-yard touchdown pass against the Eagles.

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The Packers must trim their roster from 75 to 53 by 3 p.m. CT on Saturday, and Perillo is among the “bubble” players who figure to get a long look against the Saints.

“Just go out there, put out some good film, get all your plays right, fly around and have fun,” Perillo said. “Special teams and offense, blocking, running routes, making plays.”

Perillo also sustained a concussion while playing college football at Maine, but said “this one was worse. It was tough being out for two weeks because I’m trying to make the team again.  I think I had an all right first game (two receptions for 23 yards). Still need to work on things that happened during the game, but you just have to improve each and every day. I’m happy to be back, happy to be working with the team again.”

Perillo was a prolific receiver at Maine, catching 128 passes in four years for 1,318 yards and 15 TDs. But standing only 6-foot-3, he struggled as a blocker last season.

“I’m not the biggest tight end,” Perillo conceded. “I put on 10 pounds, I’m at 255 right now. I definitely feel like that weight has helped me out.

“I’m from such a small school — Maine — they don’t have guys like they do here. We play one big school a year, but it’s still not comparable to these guys here. So that one year last year on the practice squad, going against such a great defense, it definitely helped me out. Helped my blocking out as well.”

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Packers tight end coach Jerry Fontenot said he has seen improvement.

“You wouldn’t expect him to be an overpowering blocker just by looking at him, but he plays with leverage and he knows how to use his body,” Fontenot said.

Perillo said that was one of his primary offseason goals.

“I wanted to improve on my strength, get my body weight up and improve on my blocking,” said Perillo, who played tight end, linebacker and defensive end in four high school seasons at The Tatnall School in Wilmington, earning first-team all-state honors as a senior.  “I think I run decent routes, I’ve got pretty good hands … I just want to focus on those areas, still improve on my route running, too. Focus most on my weight and work on my blocking.”

Perillo’s speed (4.76 in the 40-yard dash) is nothing special, but Fontenot sees positives there as well.

“He’s a little quicker than he looks on tape; he’s a little quicker in person than I would have expected,” Fontenot said. “Has nice feet, he’s a good athlete and I think he has pretty natural hands. So having all those qualities make you a pretty enticing prospect.”

Fontenot also called Perillo “a smart kid. He works diligently in the classroom. He asks a lot of questions, he asks the right questions. He wants to know more about schemes … so he’s an active participant. You can tell he’s a student of the game.”

On the importance of classroom work, Perillo said, “When something happens out there, a different look, I don’t want to mess up that play. If you’re more consistent out there, you get more reps and you’re going to be out there more. You don’t want someone out there who’s messing up all the time.”

Perillo, who still calls Wilmington home (“I love being around my family"), laughed when asked if there were many Packers fans in Delaware.

“Now there are,” he said. “I didn’t realize how many Packers fans there are (nationally) when I first got here last year. I knew there were a lot of Packers fans, but we’d go to different cities and there’d be Packers fans everywhere.

“Back home, usually they’re all Eagles fans, but last year, once I made the team, there were a lot more Packers fans.”

— scourtney@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @Stucourt

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