Now that Colt Lyerla has been placed on waivers, destined for injured reserve, and Brandon Bostick looks to be out until the start of the regular season, there's more opportunties at the tight end position in Green Bay than at any point since the beginning of training camp.
During practice this week, Jake Stoneburner has gotten the occasional snap with the first-string offense, a situation he hopes will continue as the Packers enter their third preseason game against the Oakland Raiders on Friday.
"The way practice is going this week, I would think I'd be able to go out there a little bit," said Stoneburner. "All you can do is ask for an opportunity and see what you can do with it. So far this week, they've been putting me out there pretty early with the ones, and I feel like I've been holding my own, doing well, so hopefully it can carry over to Friday."
Although the Packers have not officially named their opening-day starter at tight end, the job looks to go third round draft choice Richard Rodgers for what has been an impressive training camp and preseason campaign thus far.
Veteran Andrew Quarless also figures to be a good bet to make the team's roster as the most-experienced player at the position, being signed to a two-year contract in the offseason.
After those two, however, jobs are up for grabs. In recent seasons, the Packers have kept anywhere from three to five tight ends on their 53-man regular season roster, but how many they'll keep in 2014 is anyone's guess.
Bostick has emerged as perhaps the best downfield receiving threat of any of the Green Bay tight ends, but injury has clouded his future, especially in light of his passive blocking and broken foot and that landed him on injured reserve last season.
An opportunity exists for Stoneburner to make an impression Friday night against the Raiders, whether it's with the first-string offense or not.
"I think it's the most important game still, because of the fact that you have to cut to 75 after this game," said head coach Mike McCarthy.
One thing Stoneburner has going for him is an advanced knowledge of the team's offense from a year ago, when he came to the Packers as an undrafted rookie from Ohio State.
"I don't know if I could have done it last year at this point," said Stoneburner. "I wasn't as confident in the offense, or I just didn't know what I was doing a whole lot to be able to go out there and play my best. Now I feel like I know the playbook pretty much inside out. I feel like I'm on a better page with Aaron (Rodgers). I feel I can go out there an make plays. As of last year, I knew I could go out there and make plays. I just wasn't sure what I was doing half the time."
In 2013, Stoneburner was cut at the end of training camp and began the season on the team's practice squad. After Jermichael Finley was lost for the season to a neck injury, Stoneburner got a mid-season promotion to the big leagues, although his contributions were still limited.
Playing in just 10 total snaps on offense the entire year, according to ProFootballFocus.com, Stoneburner saw most of his time on special teams. Even then, his three penalties on those units over the course of nine games probably did more harm than good.
Better days might be ahead, however, and it doesn't hurt that he has the support of the most-important player in the Packers locker room.
"Jake's done a good job," said Rodgers. "He's a smart guy. He runs his routes very crisply, gets open at the right time, and I think he's doing everything he needs to do to get in the mix.
"That's a deep group. I think there's still going to be some movement there through the next couple weeks, and as usual, tight end is one of the deeper spots on our team, and a spot where you can always keep an extra one based on special-teams performance."
With the cutdown to 75 players coming on Aug. 26 and the reduction to 53 players on Aug. 30, it won't be long until Stoneburner knows his fate.
But first things first, he's out to take advantage of any chances he receives in the next exhibition game.
"Probably the biggest opportunity I'll get," said Stoneburner. "I think they want to see what I can do with Brandon being out because we're kind of similar players. We did a lot of the same things in college, so they want to see what I can do with him being out, seeing if it's pretty much the same with me in there or him in there."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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