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Opportunity is there for Lance Kendricks, Richard Rodgers

Packers move forward at tight end after Martellus Bennett’s departure


GREEN BAY – Lance Kendricks doesn't know what happened, and honestly, it isn't really the highest on his list of concerns at the moment.

Days away from Sunday's matchup with the Chicago Bears, more undoubtedly will be asked of the Packers' seventh-year tight end and Richard Rodgers after Martellus Bennett's departure earlier this week.

Bennett, a 10-year veteran, was heavily involved in the offense through the first seven games of the season, playing 388 of a possible 485 offensive snaps (80 percent), with his 24 catches for 233 yards ranking fourth on the team.

The locker room was abuzz Thursday after news broke of the New England Patriots claiming Bennett off waivers, but Sunday's showdown at Soldier Field was what was first and foremost on Kendricks' mind.

"I think it gives me more plays, more time in the offense, which has been great for me," said Kendricks, who has eight catches for 126 yards and a touchdown this season. "I've been able to catch up on some things where maybe I didn't get the reps in for. Same with Richard. We're kind of out there together. We may sub in and out and kind of get the reps together."

Kendricks and Rodgers aren't strangers to the spotlight. The two tight ends had started a combined 102 of the 141 games they'd played in coming into the season.

Kendricks spent his first six seasons with the Rams, pulling down a career-high 50 passes in 2016 prior to signing with the Packers in free agency last March. His arrival came one day after Bennett agreed to terms.

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound tight end felt Green Bay would be a good fit for him given the offensive scheme and his personal connection to the state. A Milwaukee native, Kendricks also starred at the University of Wisconsin from 2007-10.

Kendricks' first season in Green Bay has required a bit of patience. With Bennett engrained as the starting tight end, Kendricks shared No. 2 reps with Rodgers during the first half of the season.

He had a big moment against Cincinnati in Week 3, posting in an impressive 51-yard gain, but he'd played only 108 offensive snaps through the first seven games prior to Bennett missing Monday night's game against Detroit with a shoulder injury.

The slower integration into Green Bay's scheme hasn't necessarily been a bad thing for Kendricks, who sees the bright side after making the first change in scenery of his NFL career.

"It's tough for me to not get as many snaps as I'm used to getting, but I would say also that it gave me an opportunity to learn the offense and see how things work here," Kendricks said.

"Because it's a little bit different. I've been trying to use that to my advantage."

Rodgers has been in a similar boat. After catching 58 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015, the former third-round pick platooned with Jared Cook last season before spelling Bennett and Kendricks this year.

Rodgers enjoyed his busiest day of the season against the Lions, playing a season-high 33 snaps in the 30-17 loss. He has four catches for 43 yards through eight games, playing 91 offensive snaps.

Rodgers hasn't complained once about his workload this season and didn't start when asked about it Thursday.

"It hasn't been a difficult year for me at all. We still have a lot of football to play," Rodgers said. "We're going to continue to execute like we do. We know what we have to do to help the offense and that's what we're going to try to do."

 The biggest hole Bennett leaves is in the running game. Although Bennett had issues with dropped passes, Head Coach Mike McCarthy frequently praised him for being the best blocking tight end he's had in his 12 seasons in Green Bay.

Kendricks and Rodgers might not have the same name recognition as in-line blockers, but it's something they've been doing for years. It was one of several factors contributing to Kendricks' decision to sign with Green Bay as a free agent.

"Coming here was a good fit for me because they move the tight end around pretty well," Kendricks said. "I'm comfortable with it. I just have to find a role and see how I can fit in to this offense that's already established with the three really good receivers and everybody else."

Both tight ends know the offense runs through the Packers' three top-of-the-line receivers – Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams – especially with Aaron Rodgers sidelined.

Still, they're ready and willing to do whatever is asked of them. After all, it was around this time last year Cook provided a spark to the Packers down the stretch. A year earlier, Richard Rodgers caught the Hail Mary heard around the football world.

Now, Kendricks and Rodgers hope to provide another lift from the tight end position on Sunday and beyond to backup quarterback Brett Hundley and the rest of the offense.

"We have two guys in that room that they're veteran guys, they're very experienced, they're versatile guys as well," Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. "We think the men in that room can certainly get the job done."

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