Bostick poised for a breakthrough with Packers
GREEN BAY – If there was ever a player to make a name for himself in the smallest town in the National Football League, it would be a player from Newberry College, a liberal arts college of around 1,200 students located on the edge of Sumter National Forest and smack dab between Greenville and Columbia, S.C.
Athletically, the Wolves are a member of the South Atlantic Conference and play in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division II) of the NCAA – not exactly a breeding ground for NFL talent.
Yet, two years ago, Packers general manager Ted Thompson saw something in a 6-foot, 3-inch Wolves wide receiver who set nearly every school record for receptions, yards and touchdowns.
Only Thompson didn't see a wideout – he saw a tight end whose body type and athleticism compared favorably to a certain 6-4, 240-pound tight end named Jermichael Finley, who finished 2011 with 55 catches, a career high 767 yards and eight touchdowns.
Bostick was invited to try out for the Packers in early May 2012, and was told to go home. By the end of the month he was on the roster, and played his way on to the practice squad.
Packers tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot remembered that raw talent.
"Well, just his natural running ability," Fontentot said. "He has good speed and he's a deep threat whenever he gets on the field and he's very explosive in his hips. He had some natural tools that we knew we liked when he first came in. And his size is good. He's got a nice build and he's not going to get overpowered doing anything we ask him to do."
They've asked him to do a lot, but fortunately for Bostick he's been allowed to develop into Thompson's vision as a complete tight end.
That doesn't happen often in the NFL, where injury and ineffectiveness often pushes bottom-of-the-roster players to the forefront too soon, and it doesn't take long to be eaten by sharks.
Bostick was at least allowed to learn and mold his mind and body away from the spotlight in 2012.
Admittedly, his body transformed faster.
He bulked up to 250 pounds, and it helped him develop into perhaps the best blocking tight end on the roster in 2013 (at least according to head coach Mike McCarthy). But Bostick's natural athleticism may have had a bigger hand in that than anything else.
"I think the number one thing is really just teaching a guy who to maintain his balance and gain leverage at the same time because that's not something that just occurs naturally," Fontenot said about coaching a non-blocker into one.
"That's why offensive linemen spend so much time run blocking and pass blocking because it's not a natural thing to do. So, all that being said, it is good to have guys with good athletic feet, that got guys that can bend, and fortunately in our room we have those types of guys.
"So it's just a matter of getting more reps and being able to adjust to different things that defenders can show you in the middle of blocking and being able to feel how they're trying to disengage from a block. So all those things count. Obviously the more reps you can get at this stage, the better."
Bostick's ability to perform on special teams and to block helped him on to the roster in 2013 and appeared in 11 games, but injuries forced him into action. The learning curve was shortened, and he became a true part of the offense in Week 9 against Philadelphia.
Beginning with that game, he caught seven passes for 120 yards before his season ended with a foot injury suffered in Week 14 at Dallas.
The injury required surgery, which forced Bostick to sit out the offseason training activities.
"I would definitely say being thrown in there makes you – I think it's going to make or break you and I definitely think it made me," he said.
While having time off wouldn't necessarily be considered an ideal situation for a still unproven player, it was for Bostick – it allowed the mental part of his game to catch up to the physical.
"I would say I really caught on, I would say this spring," he said. "I didn't get to practice, I was hurt, so I really got to focus on the details and little stuff and really get in the playbook. I definitely say I definitely I knew it all, then, in the spring."
The coaches have seen that improvement as well in this camp, though he has still had a notable route-running miscue that Aaron Rodgers had to correct him on.
"His biggest challenge was just getting in tune with what our quarterback was asking of him at the line of scrimmage and understanding what those adjustments mean and where he's supposed to be at any given point," Fontenot said.
"That's a lot of stuff in order for a guy to be able to even see the field to have a chance. Brandon has progressed nicely. He' a guy that works very hard. he's diligent in his studies. Even from last year he's catching the ball better than he was last year at this point. We're definitely moving in the right direction there."
All that said, Bostick now feels he's ready to blossom into what an athletic tight end can be in the Packers offense.
"Yeah, I definitely say I am," he said. "This is my third year, so I know the playbook, I pretty much know all I need to know – I just need to go out there and show the coaches what I can do and just be consistent. That's all I'm really worried about, is trying to stay consistent and stay healthy, of course."
Unfortunately for Bostick, he left Saturday's preseason game with a leg injury, though he tweeted that he was OK.
Later, head coach Mike McCarthy said Bostick will miss the rest of the preseason, but sounds optimistic he'll be back for Week 1.
Brandon Bostick in the locker room briefly. Won't get into specifics of the injury but is hoping to be back for the start of the season.— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) August 19, 2014
"I would say I took a hell of a jump from when I got here to now," Bostick said. "I would say I'm definitely I'm a tight end now. I definitely think I belong here. But it was a tough, long road for me, changing positions, blocking and everything, and I definitely think I have a way to go before I'm where I want to be."
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