The Packers have had four tight ends on the 53-man roster since the beginning of the season, and it looks as though they may utilize that depth this week.
Thus far, tight ends Bubba Franks, David Martin and Donald Lee have combined for just 22 of the team's 118 pass receptions, in part because they've been asked to play a larger role in pass protection than in running routes at times.
But with the offense down to four healthy receivers, two of whom will be looking to make their first NFL catches on Sunday, Head Coach Mike McCarthy indicated the Packers could use more multiple-tight end formations and vary their duties. Fourth tight end Tory Humphrey, inactive for the first two games and used primarily on special teams since, could see more snaps on offense as well.
"Everything we do out of three wide receivers, we're also going to do out of two tight ends or three tight ends," McCarthy said. "So it's all carryover. We don't teach plays by personnel, we teach concepts, so we do have that ability."
Lee is the group's best downfield threat, as his two catches have gone for 57 yards this season, and Martin was a receiver in college at Tennessee before being converted to a tight end in the pros. So both have the skills and experience to line up wide when needed.
"We could go into a four-wide set with all four tight ends and each one does something very well," quarterback Brett Favre said. "We could line up Bubba and David inside and Donald Lee and Tory Humphrey outside, and you've got a mix of speed and blocking there that I think is a great threat. But it's easier said than done."
Franks has adapted well to certain fullback responsibilities in pass protection but would welcome a return to his prior role as a key red zone threat, when he caught 27 touchdown passes from 2001-04.
In short, the tight ends are looking at the uncertainty at receiver not as an obstacle but as an opportunity.
"I'm looking for this to be a breakout game, or a stepping stone, for this offense," Franks said.
Despite getting only four games out of Koren Robinson before his one-year suspension, McCarthy said he had no regrets about signing the wide receiver and working him into the offense.
Following league rules, McCarthy was not able to comment on whether or not Robinson would remain a Packer after his suspension, but he rejected the notion that bringing Robinson here was a mistake.
"I clearly think it was the right thing to do," McCarthy said. "I think there's a personal side to this business and obviously a professional side to it. From a professional standpoint, we knew the risk we were taking. It was calculated, and the worst scenario happened. We knew what the possibilities were.
"From a personal standpoint, I think he's a young man that made a mistake. He has a bright future and he's in the process of trying to correct his mistakes. I clearly do not think (bringing him in) was a mistake at all. His experience here was very positive."
Favre agreed, noting the presence Robinson brought to the kickoff return unit, the improvisational ability he showed as a receiver, and how well he was coming along in learning the offense and taking on a larger role.
Favre even said he told Robinson he wished he had come along earlier in his career. Favre's only regret is that the league doesn't allow Robinson to be around the team facility and with the team while he is suspended, especially the way so many players had taken a liking to him and want to be there for him as he deals with his off-the-field issues.
"It's unfortunate he has to go through this, but maybe it makes him a better person," Favre said. "I hope he comes back. I think the sky is the limit for the guy."
In addition to receiver Robert Ferguson remaining out with a foot injury, linebackers Abdul Hodge (knee) and Ben Taylor (hamstring) are doubtful, as is defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (ankle). All three missed practice Wednesday.
Of the players who are questionable, running back Ahman Green (hamstring), cornerback Will Blackmon (shin) and fullback William Henderson (calf) all practiced. McCarthy said Henderson's calf swelled up on him earlier in the week and he's being tested, but he did practice.
Cornerback Charles Woodson (knee) also is questionable but did not practice. McCarthy said his status would be evaluated again after his rehab session on Thursday morning.