Most NFL players that get selected to three Pro Bowls in their first four seasons would probably consider that about as good as you can do. But for Packers tight end Bubba Franks, who has been to Hawaii in all but one of his seasons, has his sights set on becoming one of the league's most dominating offensive players.
Franks, who has hauled in 154 passes for 1,368 yards and 21 touchdowns in his four seasons with Green Bay, believes 2004 will be crucial to his development as one of the most effective tight ends in the league. "I feel like it's time for me to dominate in this league," Franks offered. "I've been to the Pro Bowl three of my four NFL seasons but it's really time for me to go out there and take another step. I want to dominate run blocking and catch more touchdowns and try to set some records."
Originally drafted by the Packers with the 14th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft out of the University of Miami, Franks has blossomed into one of the NFL's most well-rounded tight ends. He has been named to each of the last three Pro Bowls including this year's game held last weekend in Honolulu. "It's a tremendous honor every year I get to go to the Pro Bowl," Franks said. "It's an honor to be out there with the 'best of the best."
While at this year's Pro Bowl practices and festivities, Franks made a point to watch some of the NFC wide receivers to try to glean some hints. "You're cheating yourself if you're not trying to steal a few moves here and there," he mused. "I was watching the receivers closely, especially the faster guys. I want to be able to take my game to a whole different level next year so I'm watching the speedsters and how they go into and come out of their breaks. I'm also watching how they get off the ball."
This past season was the first time in his pro career that Franks' production was not up as a receiver. He grabbed a career-low 30 passes for 241 yards and four touchdowns. But as a team, the Packers put together a run at the end of the season that captured the hearts of the football world.
Following the sudden death of Irvin Favre, father of Packers quarterback Brett Favre, Green Bay rolled to two victories to close out the regular season. When the Arizona Cardinals defeated the Minnesota Vikings on the final play of the final game of the regular season, Green Bay won the NFC Central and earned a post-season berth. The Packers defeated the Seahawks in a Wild Card weekend showdown before falling to the Eagles the following week after Donovan McNabb rallied Philadelphia after completing a 4th-and-26 fourth down pass to keep a drive alive.
Prior to the loss to Philadelphia, the Packers felt like destiny was on their side. "It was very crazy for us for a while because it was a very emotional time and we felt like nobody could beat us in the playoffs," Franks recalled. "We were at such a high after winning those games after Brett's father passed away and we felt like nobody could beat us. But then we had that 4th-and-26 play and that was it."
The painful ending to the 2003 season is something that will motivate Franks as he prepares for 2004. "That loss hurt and it won't get out of my system until we play another game," Franks commented. "I'll be suffering with that loss all off-season. But it will definitely help motivate us next year. It makes me think of how close we were yet we were so far away."
Always known as a close-knit group because of their small-town roots, the Packers family was brought even closer by the events that transpired last season after the passing of Irvin Favre. "We have always been a tight-knit group in Green Bay and offensively, we've had mostly the same people there since I've been here," Franks said. "That makes for a real family-type atmosphere."
So with the painful memory of 4th-and-26 still fresh in his mind, Franks will go to work preparing for the 2004 season when he hopes to reach that next level as a tight end. "I'm looking forward to going back to work," he stated. "I will probably take the next two or three weeks off and spend some time with my family. But after that, I'll get right back to work and start running and working out."