The Packers kept four tight ends, one more than usual, on their 53-man roster and one on the eight-man practice squad not out of necessity but to help employ a smash-mouth attack against opposing defenses this season. Expect to see the Packers use at least three tight ends per game, and possible all four in various formations, including two-tight end sets, split out wide, or even as fullbacks in the backfield.
"It's hard to let good football players go, and we feel we've got four pretty good football players for us," said offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. "They can do a lot more than just play tight end, or special teams. That body type – linebackers and tight ends – I don't think you can have enough guys like that on your team."
Compared to previous seasons under former coach Mike Sherman, Bubba Franks, Donald Lee, David Martin and Tory Humphrey will be more active under McCarthy. All four have lined up as wide receivers for plays in practice. Martin has played fullback in past seasons for the Packers. Franks and Martin are the best blockers of the group. Their role has expanded.
"You could say that," Franks said. "It's a bit bigger in the sense that we're asked to do a lot more. I'm not saying we're running more routes, but we're asked to do a lot more in this offense. We'll see on Sunday. I can't give it away, but we're asked to do a lot more."
In Green Bay's 24-17 loss to the Bears on Christmas Day last year at Lambeau Field, the Bears held the Packers to just 65 yards rushing on 21 carries (3.1 yards per rush). The Packers fell behind 24-7 in the third quarter and had to pass their way back into the game. Brett Favre attempted 51 passes, completing 30, but threw four interceptions.
It is no secret that Green Bay wants to establish the run against Chicago's defense that allowed an NFL-low 202 points last year, but the Packers will need help. Rookie guards Jason Spitz and Tony Moll will be playing in their first game, as will rookie wideout Greg Jennings. Green is expected to start at running back, but is coming off a quadriceps injury from last season. He will be backed by either Samkon Gado or Noah Herron.
Defensive ends Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown, and tackles Tommie Harris and Ian Scott spearhead a Bears' defensive line that had 28 of Chicago's 41 sacks last year. In order for the Packers to clear holes through the line, the tight ends likely will be pitching in to block.
"It depends on how the game unfolds," Jagodzinski said. "We may use two. We may use all four (smiles)."
If the Packers have success running the ball, the tights ends also may get more involved in the passing game. McCarthy feels he has four talented tight ends to utilize, so he plans to take advantage of it this year.
"If you have the athlete at the position it gives you excellent flexibility," McCarthy said. "I've always been a big proponent of having four tight ends on a roster."
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.