In just the fifth game of the season, and only the third of his pro career after being a gameday inactive in the first two contests, the 22-year-old Quarless found himself playing a more prominent role in Green Bay’s offense as he was on the field for more than 40 snaps on Sunday at Washington.
With starter Jermichael Finley and veteran backup Donald Lee both leaving the game due to injuries sustained early in the first quarter, Quarless got his most extensive action to date, posting four receptions for 51 yards after not having a catch in limited action in his first two games. He became the first Packers rookie tight end to post a 50-yard receiving game since Bubba Franks in 2000.
“He picked up the offense well,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “It’s not always easy. You might be thinking the thought of the fourth tight end maybe going into a ballgame, and all of a sudden (a few minutes) into the game you are getting a boatload of reps. He kind of responded pretty well. He made some plays, he contributed nicely.
“That part I like about him. I like the fact that it is your fifth game of your rookie year and you are thrust into action and you don’t panic and have eight mental mistakes and that type of thing. That’s a credit to him. He must have prepared well and a credit to (tight ends coach) Ben McAdoo having him ready to go.”
Lee, who sustained a chest injury on Sunday, returned to practice on a limited basis on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s session completely, but his status for this Sunday’s game against Miami is still unclear. What is known is Finley, one of the most productive tight ends in the league since returning from a knee injury last year in Week 11, will miss some significant action, if not the remainder of the season, after undergoing knee surgery on Tuesday.
With the Packers’ frequent use of two-tight end and occasionally three-tight end sets, Quarless figures to factor into the offense along with Lee and first-year man Tom Crabtree, who is known more for his blocking abilities than his pass-catching skills. For Quarless, the opportunity this early in his career brings mixed emotions.
“I wouldn’t say excited; I don’t think that is the right word,” Quarless said. “Jermichael Finley is actually one of my best friends on the team. Me and him spend a lot of time together, and I really hate to see him be injured.
“But I have to do what I have to do for the team. That’s my responsibility as a teammate to be ready and fill a void that we have right now.”
While no one is expecting a rookie to step in for one of the most dynamic players on Green Bay’s offense, Quarless brings some similar attributes as Finley. The 6-foot-4, 252-pound rookie is similar in size, and possesses the speed, athleticism and pass-catching skills to be split out wide like Finley often was.
Those abilities were on display on Quarless’ biggest catch against Washington. With the game tied at 13 and less than 30 seconds remaining, he was split out wide and matched up against cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Working out of the shotgun, quarterback Aaron Rodgers found Quarless on a slant, and he picked up some yards after the catch for a 21-yard gain to the Washington 35 to set up a Mason Crosby field goal that hit the left upright. Had Crosby made the kick, Quarless’ catch becomes one of the key plays of the afternoon.
“I was pleased to see that (Rodgers) had confidence in me,” Quarless said. “I’m a young guy and really just getting in sync with him because he actually switched up the route right before the ball was snapped. So he had that confidence in me to change the route, so I was pleased with that.
“Being a young guy, you always want the veteran guys to know that you are reliable and you are accountable. I think that is what I showed, my accountability. When I had to step up, I stepped up and showed them I was ready.”
Quarless was by no means flawless in the game, as he was flagged for a penalty in a critical situation in the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 13 and the Packers facing a second-and-4 at their own 47, he was called for holding on a John Kuhn 2-yard run. Instead of third-and-2, the offense found itself pushed back to its 37-yard line facing second-and-14. Rodgers was sacked on the next play for a 9-yard loss, and the Packers ended up punting.
Quarless also had an opportunity to score his first NFL touchdown early in the second quarter when the Packers elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal at Washington’s 1-yard line. Under pressure, Rodgers rolled out to his right and threw to Quarless as he was being covered by linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, but the ball went off Alexander’s helmet.
“After looking at it (on film), I think I could have stopped and kind of attacked the ball more,” Quarless said. “Maybe I would have got a (pass interference) call on that, but if I get another chance, I know what to do now.
“Greg Jennings came to me on the sideline right after the play and he was like, ‘Just a word of advice, stop instead of keeping in motion.’ It is just stuff that you learn with playing more.”
Philbin and McAdoo both pointed to Quarless’ intelligence and ability to quickly learn the playbook, traits that will only help him as his on-field time increases in the coming weeks.
“He is going about his business the right way, the way we expect him to,” McAdoo. “He has learned a lot and he is growing in the run game in protection and in the pass game, and I think he has big days ahead of him.
“We’re not comparing Andrew to anybody else. Andrew has an opportunity to go out and get better each day, each week, and we need to compare Andrew to Andrew each week. We don’t need to try to put him up against anybody else on our team or anybody else’s team. He has a job to do. He needs to be able to prepare and perform and get better at that each week.”
Additional coverage – Oct. 14