Battlefront: Tight ends

The Green Bay Packers are about halfway through training camp. Soon, Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy will have to make cuts as they narrow the active roster down to 53 players. Today, we take a look at the battle for roster spots among the team's tight ends.

One of the more pleasant problems that GM Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy have this training camp is trying to decide who they will have as backup tight ends behind Pro Bowler Bubba Franks. Among all the positions in camp, the battle for the second and third tight end spots is probably the most heated at this point.

Sixth-year pro David Martin, fourth-year pro Donald Lee and first-year pro Tory Humphrey have all flashed their potential at various points through the first two-plus weeks of training camp. They all have good size and a good ability to catch the ball.

"I think we have very good depth there," said McCarthy. "I think David has had the most consistent camp of the group. Donald (Lee) has been a little up and down. 'Hump' (Humphrey) has a lot of promise. We're asking them to do a lot. We're asking them to do more in pass protection than they have in the past.

"We're excited about the depth in that group and ready to tap into it because it gives you a lot of flexibility to go from a two-back team to a one-back team but keep all your principles when you've got a tight end that can do all the fullback responsibilities."

In other words, the biggest determining factor in who stays and goes may come down to blocking ability. But don't rule out durability and speed. Salary may be another factor. Using those guidelines, Lee and Humphrey have the edge on Martin.

Martin has the best downfield speed of the three backup candidates but has not always been durable in recent seasons. In fact he has missed a few practices this training camp because of a sore hand. Whether he can block better than Lee or Humphrey is questionable. The coaches will make that determination from what they see of him in practice and in preseason games.

However, Thompson and McCarthy have been preaching throughout this off-season that they want 'football players' on the team. They want players who are durable, players that will play through aches and pains. Martin's record shows that he has missed 21 of 80 games in the last five seasons mainly due to injuries.

Though McCarthy feels Martin has been the most "consistent" of the backups, he may be the odd man out if he spends any more time in the training room this camp.

At 6-foot-4, Lee is a big target who came out of nowhere last year to finish fourth on the team in receiving with 33 catches for 294 yards and two touchdowns. It would be hard to imagine him not making the team. He has made some tough catches over the middle in practices. He is durable and athletic, playing in all 15 games that he was with the Packers last year, starting in five.

Humphrey is the wild card of the trio of backup candidates. He spent most of last season on the team's practice squad. It would be easy to see him as the odd man out, but he also has made some impressive catches in training camp. His blocking ability is the big question. If he can prove that he can block, he may edge Martin for a roster spot because he has decent downfield speed.

Roster prediction: The Packers usually keep three tight ends on their roster. I say they will retain Franks, Lee and Humphrey when it is time to make the final roster cuts. Martin has been fool's gold the past five seasons for Green Bay and it's time to set him free.

Todd Korth

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