Even in Green Bay, playoffs remain elusive for ‘cursed’ ex-Badgers tight end Lance Kendricks
GREEN BAY — Lance Kendricks arrived in the Green Bay Packers’ locker room with such high hopes. Not only was he excited to be back in his native Wisconsin, playing for his home-state team, but he was joining forces with his offseason workout buddy, Aaron Rodgers.
And that was supposed to be a one-way ticket to the NFL postseason. For while the former University of Wisconsin standout had spent his first six NFL seasons with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams (2011 through 2016), Rodgers had led the Packers to the playoffs every year. Kendricks, who signed a two-year deal with the Packers in March 2017, expected Rodgers not only would lead him to his first trip to the postseason, but his first season on a team with a winning record.
He was wrong.
“I do kind of feel a little cursed,” Kendricks said this week as the Packers (5-8-1) prepared for Sunday’s road game against the New York Jets. “Obviously I came here because I wanted to win. And this wasn’t the plan.”
Last season, when Rodgers missed nine games with a broken right collarbone, the Packers started the season 4-1 but finished 7-9 with backup Brett Hundley starting in place of Rodgers.
This year, while Rodgers has been playing with a left knee injury he sustained in the opener, he’s been healthy enough to start every game. And yet, the Packers are assured of their second straight sub-.500 season.
Kendricks, meanwhile, has caught 17 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, playing 295 snaps (31.8 percent) — second to veteran Jimmy Graham’s 692 snaps but more than veteran Marcedes Lewis’ 176 — at tight end while also lining up as an H-back or fullback.
“I’ve been through a lot of losing seasons, and for me it’s always, what can I take that’s positive out of it?” Kendricks said. “I got to play with great other tight ends, I got to learn a lot, I got to work on a lot of different techniques and tight end-specific stuff that I never would have done if not for these two (Lewis and Graham). They bring a lot of different perspectives to the game. I think just as far as a learning experience, this was definitely good for me.”
But Kendricks, who grew up in Milwaukee and attended Rufus King High School, faces an uncertain future with the Packers in the market for a new coach after firing Mike McCarthy with four games to play. A new coach could bring a new offensive system that won’t be the right fit for Kendricks, who turns 31 next month.
Plus, general manager Brian Gutekunst could decide to remake the tight end position once again after signing Jared Cook two years ago, Kendricks and Martellus Bennett last year and Graham and Lewis this year. Cook plays for the Oakland Raiders, Bennett is retired and Kendricks, Graham and Lewis might all be off the roster by 2019.
The current coaching staff has liked Kendricks’ ability to line up just about everywhere on offense, but that doesn’t mean Gutekunst will try to re-sign him.
“Obviously, he’s served a lot of the backfield stuff, whether it’s in pass protection or in the run game, the lead-block stuff, and then he’s kind of been our ‘move’ guy, where we’ll line on a wing and we’ll either motion him across the formation or the backfield,” tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said of Kendricks. “He can serve a lot of different roles. He has position flexibility, depending on what (calls) are up that week, and that plan will determine how many snaps that he’ll get.”
Kendricks’ parents, who left Milwaukee to retire to Florida several years ago, are coming to Green Bay for Christmas, and Kendricks said he’s enjoyed being closer to his hometown. (His brother and other relatives still live in Milwaukee.) Plus, he’s thoroughly enjoyed playing with Rodgers, who he got to know from working out together at a Los Angeles-area training center in the offseason.
“It has been. He’s very intelligent, and in the huddle, he’s very poised. He’s just a great guy to be around and learn from. I would say (playing with him) has been everything I hoped,” Kendricks said. “I definitely have had fun. Our room, this is the best room I’ve been in. And I’d never take that for granted. I definitely have enjoyed the year — although the record didn’t show.
“I would like to be back. Obviously, we have a lot of moving parts coming ahead with coaching and players. I know they have to handle the coaching situation first, and then we’ll see what happens. We’ll see. I really want to be back.”
The Packers ruled defensive tackle Kenny Clark (elbow) out for Sunday’s game and listed wide receiver Randall Cobb (concussion) and No. 2 right tackle Jason Spriggs (concussion) as doubtful. Spriggs had started the past two games for veteran Bryan Bulaga (knee), who was removed from the injury report and will play after revealing he tore his MCL during the team’s Dec. 2 loss to Arizona. Interim head coach Joe Philbin said he was “encouraged” by Bulaga’s progress and that Bulaga was “moving well” in practice. “So far, he’s looked good,” Philbin said. … Running back Jamaal Williams (toe) was removed from the injury report and will play. He’ll carry most of the load at running back with Aaron Jones (knee) on injured reserve. … Wide receiver Jake Kumerow (hand) is listed as questionable but said earlier in the week that he intends to play. … Cornerback Will Redmond (shoulder) also has been ruled out.