Winds of change

Using Franks in reserve role better for team's tight ends

Bubba Franks downplayed it, but the Green Bay Packers clearly sent the veteran tight end a message in last weekend's minicamp that his job is up for grabs this season. Franks has started for the Packers since he was selected 14th overall by the Packers in the NFL draft in 2000.

However, Franks is coming off his second straight clunker of a season. He matched his career low of 25 catches, which he had in 2005, and didn't score a touchdown for the first time in his seven seasons with the Packers.

The epitome of Franks' season may have come on Dec. 21 against the Minnesota Vikings when he fumbled the ball away on the 1-yard line after catching a short pass from Brett Favre. Franks dropped at least eight passes during the season and committed five penalties, the most on offense among non-linemen.

"Last year is last year," said Franks at the conclusion of the team's three-day mandatory minicamp. "I've had a bad game. What do you do? You bounce back. Last year is last year, and I'm pretty much through talking about it. I'm looking forward to the future. We're going to have a little fun around here."

To his credit, the 29-year-old Franks has shed a few pounds this off-season from his listed weight of 265. He declined to say how much, but he said it has helped his speed in running pass routes.

That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that Franks will have to battle fifth-year pro Donald Lee and second-year pro Tory Humphrey for the right to start this season. At this point, that could be an uphill battle. Both Lee and Humphrey, as well as Franks, took turns starting with the first-team offense over the weekend. But the fact that a veteran was pulled from the first string during the team's first full-squad minicamp of the season is a strong indicator that there will be a change ahead in training camp.

Face it, Franks will not start forever for the Packers. The time has come to promote a younger player, which is what the Packers have in mind.

"We're creating competition at all of our positions, no different there," diplomatic Packers coach Mike McCarthy said during the minicamp. "No jobs are going to be won this weekend. The biggest thing is to give everybody plenty of work and just get as much information on all of our players."

It would make sense for the Packers to make a gradual change at the tight end position. Franks is obviously on the downside of his career, but still could be valuable as a backup, or in two-tight end formations, which the Packers utilize a lot on offense. Franks is an effective blocker, and he has had good hands, though, it appeared his confidence was shattered in the latter part of last season.

If Franks can regain his confidence, all the better for the Packers. In the meantime, Lee has the experience and potential to stretch the field. Lee hardly had any opportunities to prove himself last season, so the jury on him is still out. Look for him to get those opportunities in training camp this season, and early in the regular season.

Franks believes that he's the starter until told otherwise, "Don't fall into that trap. We're just getting the work in," he says.

But it certainly appears that Lee will be given every chance to prove that he can start for the Packers, and Humphrey as well. Using Franks as a reserve is a step in the right direction at a position where the Packers need more production, especially in the red zone.


Todd Korth

Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.


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