Beginning of the New Ends

Maybe, just maybe, the Green Bay Packers have re-established a key component to their West Coast offense – the tight end. And maybe, with a little more seasoning, the Packers' youthful tandem of Bubba Franks and David Martin can produce in a way that helped the Packers steamroll opponents in the mid-1990s.

Through three games this season, Franks and Martin have taken Cheeseheads back in time to the days of Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson. In Green Bay's NFL-title winning season of 1996 Chmura and Jackson combined for 68 catches and helped the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI. Those were the days when Brett Favre would utilize speed of Jackson to stretch defenses with long passes over the middle, or hit Chmura in an open hole of a zone defense. Can Franks and Martin do the same?

"We've got the same quarterback pulling the trigger," said Packers tight ends coach Jeff Jagodzinski. "I've told them, 'Guys have done it before here and there's no reason you guys can't do it, too.' Just the names and the faces have changed, that's all."

Franks and Martin have a total of 22 games of NFL experience. Martin has played in only three games. But both have given coaches and Favre plenty of reasons to be optimistic, mainly because of the chemistry that is beginning to blossom. Last year, Favre and Franks were in the same chapter, but often on different pages. This year, they're more in sync.

Franks, Green Bay's top draft pick in 2000, stumbled out of the blocks as a rookie and struggled to learn Green Bay's complex offense. But it is all beginning to sink in while Martin is making the transition to tight end from his college position of receiver look easy.

Franks is tied for second on the team with 9 catches for 99 yards and three touchdowns , including a 6-yard touchdown catch in Sunday's 28-7 win over Carolina. Martin has 2 catches for 34 yards. He was held out of Sunday's game with a shoulder injury that he suffered against Washington.

Franks has made some noticeable strides this year. Last year he dropped a number of passes, mainly because he was trying to figure out where to run or what to do on certain plays instead of concentrating on catching one of Favre's bullets.

"He's starting to feel comfortable in our system now," said Jagodzinski. "He's starting to make plays, plays I thought he could make all along. He just didn't do it last year. He's starting to make those now."

Franks made a lot of progress in the offseason. The team's three minicamps did wonders, plus he put in the extra effort to get more familiar with the playbook. He also is getting more familiar with defenses and has learned where to go in order to catch Favre's eye.

"Being out there and just being a regular tight end and going through the offense ... you can't do that in this kind of offense," Franks said. "You have to be on the same page with the quarterback. You just got to know the spots you can go to in case he needs a secondary receiver."

Franks found a hole in the Redskins' defense in the end zone and found himself on the receiving end of his second touchdown catch of the year from Favre on Sept. 24. Franks scored one touchdown last year, and it was on a fake-field goal attempt.

"We have a better understanding of what each other are doing," said Favre. "The chemistry has helped tremendously, but I think it can go even further."

Martin has been thrown into the fire early on this season. He has played in two-tight end sets with Franks on the line, and also has split out as a wide receiver with Franks. If the Packers line both of them up on the line, Green Bay can run to either side, instead of just the strong side. If they line up as receivers, it creates mismatches against the linebackers and secondary.

"If we can get the right matchups on people, we'll use both of them. That all depends on who we're playing," said Jagodzinski.

A sixth round draft pick by the Packers, many thought Martin's chances of making the transition to tight end and making the team was too tall an order for a rookie. But Martin has showed a willingness to learn, plus he has shown that he can be an effective blocker and special teams player. Though he was labeled a wide receiver at the University of Tennessee, Martin often lined up in the "inside slot" position, which is similar to where a tight end lines up. Martin possesses impressive speed, which allows him to run deep patterns often against slower safeties and linebackers.

Many football experts have called him the biggest surprise of the Packers training camp this season.

"He's a good athlete and he's willing to do it," said Jagodzinski. "That's the biggest thing. Some guys might fight you and say, 'Hey, I'm a receiver.' But he sees himself as a tight end and that's the role he's playing."

Finally. As an assistant coach at East Carolina, Jagodzinski recruited Martin out of high school as a tight end. Martin went to Tennessee and played receiver. But he came to Green Bay a tight end.

"I told him when we drafted him, 'I finally got a chance to coach you. I told you all along what you were,'" Jagodzinski said.

The bottom line is he and Franks have all the potential to fill a void in the offense that has been absent in the last two seasons. When they are both on the field, defenses will eventually have to think twice about how they are going to attack the Packers' offense, just like the good 'ol days when Jackson and Chmura joined the huddle.

"If you're in a two-tight end personnel grouping, they have to decide if they're going to play the run, or are they going to defend the pass," Jagodzinski explained. "If they bring an extra safety up in the 'box,' now we can throw it. If they keep him deep, we can run it. They have to decide how they want to play us."

Injuries have somewhat slowed the progress of Martin. He re-injured his right shoulder against Washington on Sept. 24 and did not suit up against Carolina. He also missed time in training camp with a viral infection in his chest.

"I didn't expect to come out this fast, personnally. I thought it would take a little time, maybe even a year," Martin said. "But I was able to go out there and develop as a player pretty quickly."

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