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Packers Fortify Tight End Position


You could say tight end Bubba Franks is durable.

When he last missed a game, he was playing a different sport.

While playing basketball at Big Spring (Texas) High School, he became frustrated and kicked a wall, injuring his foot.

The Packers, however, have listed their sturdy gridiron star as questionable for this Sunday's game with a bruised knee.

"I still haven't come to grips with the fact that Bubba would be unavailable because he's always been there," Sherman said.

Although the three-time Pro Bowler has never missed a game and could end up practicing later in the week, the Packers have prepared for any eventuality by signing tight end Ben Steele.

Steele replaces the roster spot vacated by wide receiver Javon Walker. The wide receiver tore a knee ligament against the Detroit on Sept. 11, and the team placed him on injured on Wednesday. The Packers released Steele, who played in 15 games last year, on Sept. 6.

"That's how the NFL works," Steele said." It's kind of a revolving door, and you've got to roll with the punches."

The Packers gave Steele no guarantees of remaining with the team for the season or even the next week.

"We're just worried about right now," Sherman said.

Best known for recovering a fumble to set up the game-winning drive against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 14 of last year, Steele spent the last few weeks in Southern California and tried out for the San Diego Chargers last week. He was set to visit some friends in Madison, Wis. when his agent contacted him on Tuesday regarding the Packers' interest.

Because Franks did not agree to a contract until Aug. 24, Steele received a lot of action during the preseason.

Franks sustained his injury during the fourth quarter of last Sunday's game when four Cleveland Browns defenders forced him to the turf. He, however, did not suffer any cartilage or ligament damage.

"He's the type of guy when he's hurt, it's not for very long," Steele said.

Sherman cited similar toughness from Steele as well as familiarity with the offense as reasons for the acquisition.

"He's been well-versed and well-schooled in our offense and can go in there and line up exactly where we want him to line up," Sherman said. "We know what we're getting. He's a hard worker."

No. 2 tight end David Martin brings the same kind of understanding of the offense and will receive the starting nod if Franks cannot play.

"It comes natural now not to think about what I'm about to do," Martin said. "I can just go out and do it."

Martin has played with the Packers for five years. He has one catch for six yards this year and 39 for 444 in his career.

A former wide receiver at the University of Tennessee, Martin can stretch the field in the passing game. Sherman, however, said they might have to tweak the running game to compensate for the potential loss of the drive blocking Franks.

"He's a better blocker than he is a receiver," quarterback Brett Favre said.

Regardless, Martin has readied himself to block and catch.

"We want Bubba back," Martin said. "But I feel confident I can come in and fill his void."

But any plans to count out Franks would be presumptuous. He has played in 88 consecutive NFL games and all 36 of his college contests at University of Miami (Fla.).

"He always finds a way to get on the field," Sherman said.


Happy Memories

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden helped cut his teeth in the NFL as a wide receivers coach with the Packers from 1992 to 1994.

He relished the tradition of Packers organization and fondly remembers Green Bay, Wis. -- the town where his 11-year-old son Jon II was born.

"I had a blast down there," Gruden said. "I had great times there, man, with the reemergence of Packer football. I was a young guy, who got caught up in it -- the tradition, the Hall of Fame, all the great players. And the scene there is just incredible."

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