GREEN BAY — On a night in which Jared Cook made his Packers debut, it was the team’s two young tight ends that had Lambeau Field buzzing during Friday’s preseason opener against the Browns.
Justin Perillo and Kennard Backman, competing for the Packers’ No. 3 tight end job, combined for eight catches for 80 yards in a 17-11 win over Cleveland.
The two tight ends, who were Green Bay’s two leading receivers, each played a pivotal role in the offense’s 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive before halftime.
Late in the series, Perillo and Backman grabbed three consecutive catches for 38 yards to help set up rookie quarterback Joe Callahan’s 2-yard touchdown pass to running back John Crockett, allowing the Packers to take a 10-5 lead into halftime.
If you factor in Cook and Casey Pierce, the Packers’ tight ends finished the night with 11 catches for 96 yards – roughly half of the passing game’s production.
“It was great to see all the tight ends do well,” said Perillo, who led the offense with five catches for 52 yards. “We had Rich (Rodgers) and Cook start off great for us. Making plays, making good plays. We had K.B. come in and make some plays for us.”
Perillo has 11 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown in 11 regular-season games over the past two seasons, but he’s still looking to make the 53-man roster for the first time out of training camp.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound tight end is off to a good start. He’s been active in team periods during practice and caught almost everything that’s come his way in camp.
Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy talked this offseason about the offense needing its tight ends to make more plays in the middle of the field.
Perillo did just that on his first of five catches, grabbing a pass across the middle of the field for 18 yards that seemed to get the offense going.
“I’m just going out there doing my job,” said Perillo with a smile. “Just trying to do it the best that I can. I still have things I need to work on, too. I have to work on my blocking and still work on my pass-catching, too.”
Backman started last season on the active roster, but was inactive in 10 of the Packers’ 18 games (including playoffs). Prior to Friday, his last catch came in the Packers’ preseason finale against New Orleans on Sept. 3, 2015.
On the heels of Perillo’s back-to-back catches, Backman made his biggest play in extending a quick pass from Callahan into an 18-yard gain in the middle of the field.
Backman finished the day with three catches for 38 yards.
“It’s something that’s built into the play,” Callahan said. “It’s an option for me. Aaron (Rodgers) does a great job with the run-solution throws, and it’s something we practice all the time. It worked out like it was supposed to.”
Perillo said he’s taken a lot away from both Cook and Rodgers, who entered the league with Perillo in 2014.
“I’m motivated every year,” Perillo said. “Just have to take it one day at a time. I’ve been here for two years. You just have to keep working hard.”
Peter Mortell wasn’t sure if his teammates were joking at first when they instructed him to lead the team onto the field during introductions on Friday night. High honor:
Astonished, the Green Bay native and Packers rookie punter did what he was told, crossing his fingers that his team was behind him.
“I wasn’t sure if they were going to send me out and stay in the tunnel, but they were great,” said Mortell with a laugh. “It was the most unbelievable moment of my life. To go out there and punt for the team you grew up loving, it was special and I’d never forget it.”
Mortell dropped all three of his punts inside the 20-yard line, including his last 37-yard effort going out of bounds at the Cleveland 4.
Two plays later, defensive tackle Christian Ringo sacked Browns quarterback Cody Kessler in the end zone for a safety to seal the victory.
“For me as a punter, I’ve always felt I had good control when I cross the 50,” said Mortell, who averaged 44.0 yards per attempt with a 42.7 net average.
“It’s so important to keep the ball out of the end zone because statistically teams have a much less chance of scoring if they start inside the 20 rather than on it. That’s something I put a big point of emphasis on this past offseason.”
Incumbent Tim Masthay averaged 39.7 yards on his three punts with a 25.0 net, though his first punt likely would have pinned the Browns at their own 1 if Quinten Rollins’ foot hadn’t touched the goal line.
Safety dance: Nobody in the Packers’ locker room could remember ever being a part of a game in which there were three total safeties.
Ringo was happy to make it happen, though.
The final safety, which came on Ringo’s sack of Kessler, also marked the first career sack for the second-year defensive tackle, who spent last season on Green Bay’s practice squad.
“I wasn’t thinking about that at the time,” said Ringo, a sixth-round pick in 2015. “I was just trying to get a good pass-rush move and it worked. Just had to finish and it was a good finish. I’m excited, man.”