Matt LaFleur couldn’t recall a time during his 10-plus years of NFL coaching where a player on his team underwent a late-season position change, but that didn’t stop him from doing exactly that this week with one of his young defensive linemen.
The Green Bay Packers head coach told reporters Friday that James Looney, a former seventh-round pick in 2018 and current practice squad member, has been moved from the defensive line to the tight end position after impressing the coaching staff with his athleticism.
“He did such a good job on the scout team that he kind of caught out eye,” LaFleur said. “He’s a big, athletic guy. We wanted to make the switch (now) to give him the rest of the season and give him a foundation leading into the offseason.”
Per the team’s player roster, Looney has changed numbers from 99 to 49 and been officially changed to a tight end to give the Packers six total, including Evan Baylis alongside Looney on the practice squad. The Packers have veterans Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis signed to the active roster as well as rookie Jace Sternberger and Robert Tonyan.
Looney played three games on the Packers defensive line during his 2018 season as a rookie out of California, but he was unable to win a roster spot coming out of training camp and has spent the duration of the year with the reserves.
Follow the Heavy on Packers Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!
Will Interesting Move Pay Off for Packers?
There are a couple of different ways to look at Looney’s positional change in the context of what LaFleur said Friday afternoon when announcing the unusual decision.
The Packers don’t really need more pass-catching tight ends with a healthy mix of young and old capable of being efficient with their hands. That could mean Looney, who is 6-foot-3 and 287 pounds, could be converted into a bulldozer of a run blocker if he is able to cut a little weight. LaFleur has indicated he values such an ability in tight ends, singling Lewis more than once in the past for being effective in that respect.
In the same vein, Lewis will become a free agent at the end of the regular season and, though the 35-year-old caught his first Packers touchdown last week, could be on his way out. If he does depart, Looney might represent a potential supplement his run-blocking skills.
There are also less flattering ways to look at this move: that Looney couldn’t cut it as a defensive lineman and has been given an opportunity based on athletic ability to renovate his career in the NFL. It would be a hard road to walk back if Looney doesn’t make it as a tight end for the Packers and finds himself looking for a new team in the future.
The good news for Looney is the Packers have proved to be a team that doesn’t mind spending some time converting players into roles that better serve them. Look no further than their current endeavor with top draft pick Rashan Gary, who has slowly been picking up the outside linebacker position after playing defensive end at Michigan.