Backups - David Martin, Donald Lee, Tory Humphrey
Like the running backs position, the Green Bay Packers were hurtin' for certain at tight end in 2005. Pro Bowl starter Bubba Franks missed most of the season with knee, neck and back injuries. Injury-prone backup David Martin stepped in and started five games, but he again failed to make it through an entire season and missed four games because of injuries.
The tight end position was never in sync from the get-go last year. Franks missed all but the last few days of the preseason before signing a seven-year, $28 million contract extension after the Packers designated him as its transition player in the off-season. The three-time Pro Bowler suffered a torn knee ligament in Week 2, sat out the next three games, and then sustained neck and back injuries in back-to-back games at Philadelphia and Chicago in late November and early December that forced him to end the season on injured reserve.
Franks finished with a career-low 25 catches and a touchdown. His absence for most of the season affected the offense's ability to utilize three tight ends in the spread offense.
Martin finished with a career-high 27 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns. After missing a number of training camp practices with a groin injury, he injured the other side of his groin midway through the season and missed three games. Martin suffered a concussion in the second quarter Dec. 25 against the Bears and did not play in the season finale against Seattle.
Donald Lee, a free agent pickup during Week 1, was a pleasant surprise. Lee picked up on the intricate offensive scheme from the get-go and led the tight ends with 33 catches, averaging 8.9 yards, fourth among Packers receivers. Lee also functioned adequately as a run blocker, and will be pushing Martin for the backup spot to Franks in 2006.
Rookie Tory Humphrey, who was in Green Bay's training camp and signed to the team's practice squad in mid-November, was placed on the active roster for the final game of the season. Humphrey was the fifth tight end on the active roster last season. Training camp castoff Ben Steele was re-signed for games in Week 3 and Week 4, then released when Franks returned to the lineup.
Look for the Packers to select a tight end in the upcoming NFL draft. Tight end is a key position in the West Coast offense and the Packers have ignored it in recent off-seasons. Green Bay hasn't drafted a player at that position since Martin was taken in the sixth round in 2001. The Packers selected Franks with their first-round pick in 2000.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.