GREEN BAY, Wis. — It’s been six months since Andrew Quarless suffered a significant right knee injury, but the Packers’ 23-year-old tight end is still a couple months away from being ready to play football again.
“I don’t necessarily think I will be ready by the start of training camp, but it’s the doc’s call,” Quarless said this week. “I’m just doing what they say.”
Training camp for the Packers begins July 26, and with preseason games starting just two weeks later, Quarless’ injury will likely impact his ability to play early on this upcoming season.
It’s possible that Quarless could take advantage of the new, soon-to-be-approved NFL rule that will allow each team to bring back one player from injured reserve during the season. Previously, a player on injured reserve could not return during that season. The old rule would also only allow Quarless to be placed on the Physically Unable To Perform list. However, under the newly proposed rule, the language appears to allow the Packers to place Quarless on injured reserve, then have him return to practice after Week 6 and add him to the active roster in Week 9.
If Quarless is not ready for training camp, as he predicts, it’s highly unlikely coach Mike McCarthy would have him active on the team’s 53-man roster at the start of the regular season with little practice time, even if he had fully returned to health by then.
Considering the quality at tight end in Green Bay, McCarthy can afford to be cautious with Quarless. The starter, Jermichael Finley, will get the vast majority of the snaps. Whereas Quarless would have been No. 2 on the depth chart, his absence would allow for D.J. Williams, a promising rookie last season, to be a bigger part of the offense in 2012.
Williams, considered one of the best tight ends in the 2011 draft, was selected in the fifth round by the Packers. Though he had just two receptions all of last season, Williams made a terrific catch during a Packers offseason practice session this week. Lining up wide left, Williams had a deep ball tossed his way from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and in single coverage, Williams rose up over safety M.D. Jennings and came away with a spectacular grab.
Ryan Taylor, who is also entering his second NFL season, as well as Tom Crabtree, round out the talented group that could give Quarless the extra recuperation time he may need. Keeping five tight ends on the roster is an extreme rarity in the NFL, but that’s what the Packers did last season.
The severity of Quarless’ injury, which occurred in Week 13 in New York against the Giants, was substantial. Though a torn ACL by itself would have ended his season, the damage was far worse than even that.
“It was pretty bad,” Quarless said. “I know it was the ACL and the MCL. I’m not sure about what else.”
While some players might avoid ever watching the replay of such a devastating injury, Quarless didn’t wait long to check out what happened.
“I actually watched the replay leaving the stadium (on my iPhone), going to the airport,” Quarless said. “I saw it was on YouTube already. It looked bad. It looked just like it felt. It was on YouTube, so I’m leaving from the Giants’ stadium, going to the plane, and I’m watching it on YouTube.”
In Quarless’ 2010 rookie season, he stepped into the starting lineup when Finley was lost for the year with a knee injury of his own. Quarless finished that season with 21 catches for 238 yards and one touchdown, showing that he could be a reliable target for Rodgers.
Finley’s return to the lineup in 2011 meant far fewer opportunities for Quarless in the passing game, but this injury has officially put his development on hold.
“I was growing a lot, growing tremendously,” Quarless said. “Everything was positive, everything was on the upswing. But I don’t like to look back. To me, it is what it is. These things happen in a career. It’s all about coming back stronger. That’s where my head is at right now. I’m excited.
“Rehabbing, my leg is bigger than it’s ever been, I’m not going to lie. I’m putting on weight. It’s been good, this rehab so far.
“You can’t feel sorry, you just have to work through it. Everybody says it’s one of the hardest things. For me, I don’t like to watch (practice). I hate to watch. I’ve been watching these practices, and I really want to be out there, but it’s only pushing me more.”