BIG CATCH

Ad­di­tions of Ben­nett, Ken­dricks and re-sign­ing of Perr y among ma­jor moves by Pack­ers

Packer Plus - - Front Page - ROB REISCHEL Send email to ro­breis­chel@gmail.com

Jared Cook spent just one year in Green Bay.

But he re­minded ev­ery­body around the or­ga­ni­za­tion just what the Pack­ers’ of­fense can look like with a dif­fer­ence­maker at tight end.

Now, it seems un­likely that Green Bay will ever ig­nore one of Mike McCarthy’s fa­vorite po­si­tional groups again.

The Pack­ers signed veteran tight ends Martel­lus Ben­nett and Lance Ken­dricks in free agency last week when ne­go­ti­a­tions with Cook broke down. Now, Green Bay could have its best tight end duo since Keith Jack­son and Mark Ch­mura were shred­ding sec­on­daries more than two decades ago, and in a weird way, Cook is par­tially re­spon­si­ble.

In the 13 games Cook played last sea­son, the Pack­ers went 10-3 and av­er­aged 28.2 points per game. In the six games Cook was in­jured, Green Bay was 2-4 over­all and av­er­aged 24.7 points.

Late in the 2016 sea­son, McCarthy said, “I’ve talked about it since I got here. The fastest way to the end zone is through the mid­dle of the field.”

If any­one had for­got­ten that les­son, Cook re­minded them. Now, Ben­nett and Ken­dricks will give the Pack­ers a po­ten­tially dynamic duo at tight end that could take Green Bay’s of­fense from good to great.

“I think we both have our own as­sets,” Ken­dricks said dur­ing an in­ter­view on the Pack­ers’ web­site last week. “(Ben­nett’s) a very good down the field catcher. He’s a big tar­get and I can work the seams, as well.

“With both of us out there, I think we’ll be able to cre­ate mis­matches and things we’ll be able to take ad­van­tage of. There are so many weapons on this of­fense and to be able to con­trib­ute to it is a great feel­ing.”

McCarthy, a tight end him­self at NAIA Baker Univer­sity (Kansas), has al­ways had an affin­ity for the tight end group. Re­mem­ber in 2011, when the Pack­ers kept five tight ends on their open­ing day ros­ter? Green Bay also kept four tight ends in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The Pack­ers of­fense was never bet­ter than 2011, when a dynamic Jer­michael Fin­ley owned the mid­dle of the field and Green Bay set a fran­chise scor­ing record with 35.0 points per game. In many ways it was sim­i­lar to 1996, when the Pack­ers also ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points per game (28.5) thanks in part to the two-headed tight end mon­ster of Jack­son and Ch­mura.

After Fin­ley suf­fered a ca­reer-end­ing neck in­jury in Week 7 of 2013, though, Green Bay’s pro­duc­tion from the tight end group fell off the map. But the emer­gence of Cook last sea­son re­minded every­one just how dan­ger­ous the Pack­ers of­fense can be with a high-level tight end.

“He’s been a big part of our suc­cess,” Pack­ers quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers said of Cook late in the year. “He’s done a great job for us. Not crazy red-zone stats or huge pro­duc­tion — which I think he’s ca­pa­ble of — but just his pres­ence out there has re­ally meant a lot to us, giv­ing us an op­tion down the mid­dle and an op­tion split­ting him out to his own side as well, which we haven’t had around here in a while.”

Well, the Pack­ers could have it again in 2017. And they could have it from two peo­ple.

Ben­nett, 30, had four rel­a­tively quiet years in Dal­las. Over the last five sea­sons, though, Ben­nett has av­er­aged 63.6 re­cep­tions and 5.2 touch­downs per sea­son.

The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Ben­nett is an enor­mous man who once ran a re­spectable 4.68-sec­ond, 40-yard dash at the NFL com­bine. Ben­nett also per­formed ex­tremely well in the ver­ti­cal jump (34 inches) and broad jump (9-9).

When New Eng­land lost star tight end Rob Gronkowski last year, Ben­nett stepped up and helped the Pa­tri­ots win their fifth Su­per Bowl over­all and their sec­ond in three sea­sons.

Ben­nett is known for his sense of hu­mor and pranks. But his foot­ball skills are no laugh- ing mat­ter.

“Well, I think with Marty, foot­ball ab­so­lutely is No. 1,” Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady said of Ben­nett dur­ing Su­per Bowl week in Fe­bru­ary. “He has a high foot­ball IQ, and I have so much re­spect for Marty to come in — be­ing in the dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions that he has — and he came right in from OTAs, didn’t miss any prac­tices all through train­ing camp. He’s been avail­able ev­ery game this sea­son. He’s played sev­eral dif­fer­ent po­si­tions, and he’s prac­ticed al­most ev­ery day, too. He’s got a lot of men­tal tough­ness.”

Less than 24 hours after sign­ing Ben­nett, the Pack­ers dou­bled down and also inked the speedy Ken­dricks to a deal.

Ken­dricks, a former stand­out at Mil­wau­kee King High School and the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin, ran a 4.57-sec­ond 40yard dash at the 2011 NFL com­bine. He then av­er­aged 34.0 re­cep­tions and three touch­downs dur­ing his six sea­sons with the St. Louis/Los An­ge­les Rams.

When the Rams re­leased Ken­dricks in a cost-cut­ting move, the Pack­ers hap­pily signed him. Twelve months ear­lier, the Rams also re­leased Cook, who then signed with Green Bay.

“I think they’re ex­cited to be able to uti­lize me be­cause I played in so many dif­fer­ent for­ma­tions,” Ken­dricks told the Pack­ers’ team-con­trolled web­site. “I kind of line up all over the place. I think they’ll find some­thing I’m re­ally good at or a few things I’m re­ally good at and they’ll be able to uti­lize that and im­ple­ment that into the sys­tem.”

The days of heavy-legged play­ers like Richard Rodgers or An­drew Quar­less lead­ing Green Bay’s tight end group in re­cep­tions ap­pears to be a thing of the past. The Pack­ers now have one of the more for­mi­da­ble tight end com­bi­na­tions in foot­ball — and McCarthy has more toys in the pass­ing game than he’s had in years.

Cook re­minded every­one in Green Bay what a tight end can mean to McCarthy’s of­fense. It doesn’t ap­pear the Pack­ers will for­get that les­son any time soon.

PACKER PLUS FILES

The Pack­ers and Brett Favre had ex­cel­lent tight ends two decades ago in Keith Jack­son (right) and Mark Ch­mura.

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