Prior to last season, Bubba Franks never missed a game. He developed into a reliable blocker and receiver. No, he isn't Antonio Gates, but he was certainly good enough to be named to the Pro Bowl squad.
Last season, however, Franks missed the first games of his career because of injuries (bruised knee, neck and back), and that resulted in career lows in receptions (25) yards (207) and touchdowns (one). Back when the Packers were playing in Super Bowl, or making deep runs in the playoffs, the tight end was a key area in the passing game. Not having a receiver opposite Donald Driver who can be counted on, it's clear the Packers need Franks to become a factor again.
"I'm expecting him to be a productive Pro Bowl tight end like he's been in the past," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's had some injuries of late and just (needs to) get healthy."
McCarthy isn't holding last year against Franks, who started the summer by holding out. Last season was the only time Franks didn't catch at least 30 passes, and the Packers may need Franks to challenge his career-high total of 54 receptions for the offense to be productive.
"To sit on the sidelines the last four games, five really, and watch the team go out there and battle without you, it's frustrating," said Franks, who played 10 games. "Sitting out practice (recently), that feeling kind of came back.
"I'm just ready to go."
Before 2005, Franks may have been taken for granted. He has taken heat for not being able to make much happen after the catch, in addition to being only productive inside the red zone. But with Franks missing last season, the tight end position was hardly talked about on opponents' scouting reports. Donald Lee was OK, but he doesn't possess the all-around game Franks does.
He was missed, and before last season Franks never considered missing time.
"I thought I was an ironman, and it brought me back to reality," Franks said. "Everything happens to everyone on any given play. Regardless of what you do, what you train for, freak accidents happen."
Based on his season last year, Franks didn't earn the money he held out for when he signed a seven-year, $28 million contract, which included a $7 million signing bonus, last summer. Franks missed the first four weeks of training camp until the deal was completed and that time missed seemed to set the tone for the season.
That wasn't what he forecasted for himself when he returned to the Packers.
"Before it's all said and done, I want to be known as the best tight end in Packer history," Franks said. "Actually, I want to be known as the best tight end in football."
Best tight end in football? Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Jeremy Shockey certainly rank ahead of Franks, but the Packers don't need Franks to be the best. They just need him to be there week after week, just like he was before the 2005 season.
"I had all off-season to put (what happened in 2005) out of my mind. It's not a problem. I'm ready to take on anybody who wants to," Franks said. "I approach every season the same way - I'm going to make this one better than the last."
That shouldn't be difficult for Franks, who needs to step up for an offense looking for weapons.
Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.