“Definitely didn’t sign up to pass out water.”
This was a tweet from Jace Sternberger this summer after the Packers went all in on him being the tight end number one this offseason. The Packers passed on Austin Hooper, Eric Ebron and moved on from veteran Jimmy Graham. The Packers sophomore tight end has been on a makeshift media tour during this quarantine, and he was willing to hop on a phone call to discuss quarantine, this past season and what to expect next season.
Sternberger has been keeping himself busy this offseason back home in Oklahoma. He has appeared on multiple podcasts, made himself available for interviews and has been showing off his fortnite skills on his streams. When I initially called him, he was setting up his live stream area for later that night.
He hasn’t only been keeping himself busy with the media, but he has been getting prepared for this upcoming season where his workload is projected to increase.
“Man, I’ve been doing a lot of working out. We actually have a whole gym set up in the garage. I’ve been doing conditioning and taking care of my body.”
I wanted to know if he had a quarterback in Oklahoma that he would pair up with to practice routes. He actually has two, and luckily does not have to go far to practice with them.
“Both of my brothers actually played quarterback,” Sternberger said. “One is trying to be varsity quarterback and the other plays college basketball, but he still has a rocket. They both can do simple throwing stuff with me. Right now though, I would say I haven’t been able to do what I want traditionally with running routes, but for the most part it is pretty much the same.”
Sternberger is on a team with one of the most talented quarterbacks to ever step on the field, but if we know anything about Rodgers it is that he needs to trust his receivers. With the country on lockdown and virtual OTAs, I wanted to know if Sternberger was worried about not being able to build that chemistry with Rodgers during the offseason.
“No, I’m not worried,” said Sternberger. “At the end of the day it’s still football. The trust will come with it. It’s still the same route. I’ll need to get on his schedule and timing. For me, this is the first time in five years that I had the same quarterback two years in a row. I already have more chemistry with Aaron (Rodgers) than I”ve had with any other quarterback.”
With the departure of Jimmy Graham, one area the Packers will look at Sternberger to help improve is the blocking from the tight end position. Graham was notorious for missing blocks and not having that ability. Just look at the tweets Warren Sharp and former Packer TJ Lang put out:
When you motion Jimmy Graham in to help with pass pro and he “blocks” pic.twitter.com/DAsURzykAI
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 30, 2020
Anytime you go from college to the NFL there is an adjustment, period. I wanted to know if Sternberger had that when it came to blocking in the NFL and if this is a focus point during the offseason.
“I’ve been working on that throughout the season. Stuff like that I feel like I will always be working on it. That and running routes is just part of the game so I’m always working on it. I haven’t put any emphasis on it. Personally, I feel like I held my own during the blocking game and it’s only going to get better. The biggest adjustment is that it is so much technique.”
As I did in my interview with Billy Turner, I wanted to ask Sternberger about Rick Wagner replacing Bulaga this coming season, if that has much of an effect on him or if it is business as usual.
“Obviously the chemistry will need to develop, but at the end of the day to make things easy on me I think of it as I still need to run block. I still need to move my feet here. I still need to make this call to the tackle. You know, I got good practice last year as a rookie. I was still doing reps with practice squad tackles and all those people too, so I got good practice with different players. I’m going to keep it as generic as that for this year.”
Sternberger mentioned how they have everyone coming back from last year except for two players: Bulaga and Graham. Compared to other teams around the NFL that is not a huge turnover. One player that he mentioned specifically being back on the team was Marcedes Lewis. The almost 36-year-old veteran is going into his 14th year in the NFL. He has been a strong leader for the Packers and someone Sternberger has looked up to.
“He is one person that I just want to earn his respect,” said Sternberger. “I definitely care what he thinks about me. Just the way he carries himself and how he prepares. How much respect he puts in the game. It makes me want to be great in his eyes. You know, like I said he has played as long as everyone has dreamed to play. He does the little things right, is a great guy to learn from, and I’m definitely blessed to have him as part of Green Bay.”
Since Graham and Lewis were both taking the majority of the reps at TE, the Packers used Sternberger in the backfield after Vitale was out with an injury. When asked if that could be a possibility for this season, he had this to say:
“If that is where they want me to go, I’ll do it for sure. Like I said with playing in the slot more this coming season, the more you know and the more you can show your value and do multiple things the better. Coach LaFleur isn’t afraid to line you up in different spots. If I can show I can handle my own at fullback, tight end or anywhere else in the offense, that’s where I can play.”
The Packers used a third round pick on Sternberger last season and plan to use him much more this year. His rookie campaign didn’t go as planned after missing the majority of the season with an injury, but that allowed him to study tape, learn the plays and pick up on the little things that he will need to do next season as tight end number one. He showed in the playoffs that he can contribute after catching a touchdown in the NFC championship game, and he looks to add on to that this season. As he said, he didn’t sign up to pass out water.