It wasn’t quite a phone booth and he’s not quite Superman, but Spencer Havner was wearing the offense’s white jersey at one moment and the defense’s green at the next.
Havner, the Green Bay Packers’ linebacker-turned-tight end, is now a linebacker-turned-tight end-turned linebacker. With injuries slamming the linebacker position, Havner lined up at inside linebacker during Thursday morning’s practice.
Havner was a four-year starter at linebacker for UCLA and finished his career ranked third in school history in tackles. After languishing on the Packers’ practice squad for most of 2006 through 2008, his career was at a crossroads. Havner was out of practice squad eligibility and linebacker was a position of strength, so his future in Green Bay looked bleak. On the other hand, the Packers liked Havner’s special-teams potential and were intrigued by Havner’s play at tight end while on the “look” team during practices.
The decision to turn Havner into a linebacker/tight end paid immediate dividends. He scored five touchdowns last season (including playoffs) — including four when Jermichael Finley was injured — plus finished third on the team with 20 tackles on special teams. Now, he's back to defense to help pick up the slack with Nick Barnett limited because of his knee and undrafted Alex Joseph battling a quad injury.
“This was our plan going into training camp,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “If you recall last training camp, we went with a very similar format for Spencer. He has the ability to play both linebacker and tight end. Really was not needed on defense last year and played exclusively tight end and had a nice year for us. But we’re really going through the same format that we did last year.”
If that was the plan, apparently nobody bothered to tell Havner. He said he was caught off-guard when told of the decision on Wednesday. If it were up to him, he’d stick with being only a tight end. But, with a roster spot on the line with fifth-round pick Andrew Quarless and impressive Tom Crabtree added to the equation, he understands that the more he can do, the better his chances.
“We didn’t have to use it last year in the regular season, which was nice, because it let me concentrate on trying to be a really good tight end,” Havner said. “That’s the way I like it. I want to play some tight end and get a spot on a team.”
The physical workload won’t be as big of an issue as the mental challenge. Not only does he have to keep up to speed with what’s going on with the offense and an evolving special teams, now he has to get back up to speed on defense. It was at about this point last year when Havner became essentially a full-time tight end.
“I’ve got to get the calls learned again,” he said. “It’s kind of like old hat, I guess, just getting my feet back under me again.”
While Havner thinks linebacker is more of an “in case of emergency” proposition, he’ll get a chance to get his feet back under him on Saturday against Cleveland.
“I like Spencer, what I saw of him at the linebacker position last year,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “We’ll get him ready here and see how he does Saturday night and if he could, it would really help us because now, working Brandon Chillar out at the outside position, that makes us a little shorter inside. So, we’ve basically been rotating those three guys inside and we’re short now on numbers there. But Spencer could factor into our defense.”
While Chillar doesn’t exactly relish the challenges that are ahead, part of him thinks the idea of playing on both sides of the ball in a regular-season game would be fun.
“It would be cool, yeah, it would be really cool,” he said.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.