The Packers were hit hard by injuries at a handful of skill positions on offense last season and tight end was no exception. Starter Bubba Franks was bothered by injuries that ultimately landed him on injured reserve, taking away one of the Packers' most valuable weapons for Brett Favre.
Franks has returned from knee and neck injuries and says his is 100 percent back to normal. Green Bay also has high hopes for Donald Lee, a free agent pickup early in the season last year who turned out to be the Packers' most productive tight end. David Martin will get one more training camp to prove that he can live up to expectations that the Packers have had for him the past five seasons, but don't be surprised if he is passed up by Tory Humphrey, who had a productive season in NFL Europe this spring.
Mike McCarthy and his staff have vowed to make the tight end a more vital part of the offense. Under Mike Sherman and company, the tight end corp was not used as much. Franks gives the Packers a big, reliable target over the middle for short- to medium-range gains. Lee, Martin, or Humphrey have the ability to stretch the field for longer pickups.
Franks missed the the better part of three games early in the season with a sprained knee. In late November he was carted off the field and hospitalized after getting hit by safety Brian Dawkins in Green Bay's 19-14 loss. He stayed in a Philadelphia hospital overnight, then returned to play the next Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Franks was injured on the first play of the game after getting drilled by linebacker Lance Briggs on a pass play. Franks missed the rest of the season, finishing with career lows of 25 catches for 207 yards and one touchdown.
Last year, Lee led Green Bay's tight ends with 33 catches (fourth on the team in receiving) for 294 yards and two touchdowns. Martin posted career highs in catches (27), yards (224) and touchdowns (3), but again spent more time in the training room than on the field. He sustained a concussion in Week 16 and missed the regular season finale. He missed three games earlier in the season with a strained groin. In five seasons with Green Bay, Martin has played in all 16 games just once. He was limited to eight games in 2002 and nine games in 2004 because of injuries.
Humphrey signed with the Packers as a free agent during training camp in 2005. He was released after the final cutdown, then returned to join the practice squad in mid-November. He was promoted for the final game to step in for the injured Martin. The Packers allocated Humphrey to NFL Europe this spring where he caught 19 passes for 206 yards (10.8 yard avg.) and a touchdown for the Amsterdam Admirals.
Humphrey has decent speed. If he had a good training camp and shows that he can play well on special teams, there is a good chance that the Packers may keep him over Martin.
Garrett Cross, who played for two seasons with Aaron Rodgers at California, returned this off-season after "retiring" from football early in training camp last year. Zac Alcorn was signed as an undrafted college free agent in early May out of Black Hills State.