Packers TE Luke Musgrave navigating learning curve that comes as blocker

Green Bay Packers tight end Austin Allen (49) and tight end Luke Musgrave (88) participate during training camp Thursday, July 27, 2023, at Ray Nitschke Field in Green Bay, Wis.Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
Green Bay Packers tight end Austin Allen (49) and tight end Luke Musgrave (88) participate during training camp Thursday, July 27, 2023, at Ray Nitschke Field in Green Bay, Wis.Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. /

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has often discussed this offseason the difficulty that comes when making the jump from college to the NFL at the tight end position. For rookie Luke Musgrave, blocking is the most challenging part of that transition.

"“Blocking is definitely different,” said Musgrave after Thursday’s practice. “Going up against somebody like Preston Smith, which is, nothing against college guys, but they’re not as good, probably. So going up against a guy like that, or those guys, is different.“They’re fast. They’re big. They’re physical. They’re on you quick. I want to go against those guys because those are the guys I’m going against on game day when that happens.”"

Musgrave comes to the NFL with nearly 600 run-blocking snaps during his time at Oregon State, according to PFF. After Day 2 of the draft, GM Brian Gutekunst would call Musgrave an “all-around” tight end, referring to his blocking ability. However, with elite size, speed, and overall athleticism, where Musgrave has shined and will make the biggest impact early on with the Packers is in the passing game.

We saw this on display during Wednesday’s training camp practice when Musgrave was lined up on the boundary against cornerback Corey Ballentine and was able to create separation as he ran a go-route down the right sideline. But being a capable blocker is also an important aspect of playing tight end in Matt LaFleur’s offense. A few plays later, when lined up inline and facing Preston Smith, it appeared that Musgrave braced for a power rush, but Smith ended up running around him with ease for a would-be sack.

"“High school to college, I came in with zero blocking,” said Musgrave. “So the wide zone was the hardest part. And probably from college to here, wide zone is probably the hardest part.“You can’t get away with just being athletic. In college, you can maybe get away with some bad technique–I’m going to push him out. Whereas here, you have to be on your stuff. Off the ball when it’s snapped. Take the right footwork. All of our guys are so good.”"

Since the start of offseason programs, Musgrave has been working with the starting offense. He is going to play a big role right away, bringing a big play element to the tight end position, which will also help create opportunities for others in the offense by forcing the defense to create better spacing along with the attention Musgrave draws.

But with that, the Packers have to be prepared for the ups and downs that are going to come with relying heavily on a rookie tight end, specifically as a blocker. Historically, most rookie tight ends do not make significant contributions in their first seasons because of all the responsibilities that come with this position, from lining up all over the formation to knowing route concepts like a receiver and blocking techniques like a tackle.

Hopefully, as we see Musgrave improve as a blocker, it will add some more unpredictability to the Green Bay offense. When a tight end can impact both the running and passing games, defenses are left guessing, unable to decipher pre-snap what that player’s role will be on a specific play. It also allows the offense to run many plays from just a few personnel groupings, helping to create mismatches that can be exploited.

For Musgrave right now, the most important thing is practice time, where he can work on his technique and see different pass-rush looks from the Packers defenders. As offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich says, make new mistakes, don’t make the same mistake twice.

"“It’s reps,” said Musgrave. “You learn from a lot of time making mistakes. You’re not trying to make a mistake, but going out there and making mistakes so you can learn.“A lot of times, you don’t necessarily learn as much from doing it right, especially in the run game. Just go out there and see what works. So that’s what we are doing. But I just have to keep on improving. I’m just going to have to go out there and take reps to get where I want to be.”"