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TE Humphrey Working His Way Back

As the Packers’ coaching staff emphasized "improvement from within" during the last offseason, players such as Atari Bigby, Tramon Williams and Donald Lee emerged as starters or key contributors in 2007. Tight end Tory Humphrey might have qualified for that list, too, only Humphrey never got to show anyone how much he had improved.


As the Green Bay Packers' coaching staff emphasized "improvement from within" during the last offseason, players such as defensive backs Atari Bigby and Tramon Williams, and tight end Donald Lee, emerged as starters or key contributors in 2007.

Tight end Tory Humphrey might have qualified for that list, too, only Humphrey never got to show anyone how much he had improved.

After spending a full spring in the Packers' offseason program, and displaying promise during mini-camps and OTAs that he could be an athletic tight end with the ability to stretch the middle of the field, Humphrey sustained a horrible leg injury during the very first training camp practice on July 28.

"I was running a route, and the ball was thrown backside," Humphrey recalled last week, before leaving Green Bay for a training facility in Arizona. "I think it was one of the linebackers who hit me, and my foot kind of stuck in the ground the wrong way. I felt the snap right then and there, so I knew what happened before anyone came over."

What happened was Humphrey had badly broken his lower leg, just above the ankle. During surgery a few days later, two screws were inserted into the ankle and a plate was put in his leg.

Told Humphrey would need about three months before he could resume any activity, and at least six months to fully recover, the Packers placed him on injured reserve, ending his season before it even began.

It was a crushing blow to a player who felt entering his third year he was ready to challenge for not just a roster spot, but a significant role.

A practice squad player in 2005 who made his NFL debut in the regular-season finale that year, Humphrey went to NFL Europa in 2006 and put together a strong training camp that summer. So strong, in fact, that he was kept on the roster as a fourth tight end, an unusual move but a clear indication General Manager Ted Thompson and Head Coach Mike McCarthy felt he was one of the top 53 players and didn't want to expose him to waivers.

With the combination of speed and body type (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) the coaching staff was looking for on special teams, Humphrey became a regular on those units. Playing in seven games in 2006, he made five tackles. He was just starting to receive some snaps from scrimmage at tight end when a hamstring injury at Minnesota landed him on injured reserve for the final seven games.

That was a setback in its own right, but with the departure of free agent David Martin in the offseason, Humphrey already had moved up to the No. 3 tight end behind Lee and veteran Bubba Franks heading into training camp last July.

Then the next thing he knew, he was tooling around the team facility on a scooter with his splinted leg elevated, receiving constant treatment in the trainers' room and getting grief from his teammates who were going through the daily grind of meetings and practices.

"It's been a long process," Humphrey said of his rehab, which included getting the screws removed from his ankle two months after the initial surgery. "Starting off, all I was doing was jumping in the pool to try to stay in shape, get my heart rate going a little bit. It's been a hard process, just sitting back and watching."

As the season progressed, Humphrey started going to the team and position meetings to watch film and, as he put it, "get my mind back in football mode." He said there's always plenty to learn from the route running and good hands of a tight end like Lee to the footwork, hand placement and blocking techniques of one like Franks.

Around mid-December, Humphrey resumed running, though not 100 percent, and this week he's beginning a training regimen in Arizona designed to get him ready for the start of the offseason program here in March.

His goal for then? Pretty simple.

"I want to be 100 percent with my leg, I want to be in great shape," he said. "That's all I want to be."

{sportsad300}Humphrey shrugs off any suggestion he'll get the label "injury-prone" after what has occurred the past two seasons. He attributed the hamstring injury in 2006 to fatigue, having gone non-stop with football from NFL Europa in the spring through OTAs, training camp and the regular season. And the broken leg was a "freak thing" that he has to put out of his mind this spring as he tries to pick up where left off.

His mindset is to challenge for the starting position, and while it will be extremely difficult to unseat Lee (who received a contract extension this past season), he's keeping his aspirations above simply making the team.

"I think I have a pretty good chance (to make an impact)," he said. "I have to build off of what I did last offseason. I had pretty good mini-camps, OTAs. I think I bring a total package for us. I can run, stretch the field, and I can block. But you always have to improve. I have to work on footwork, technique things."

That approach - a combination of confidence in his abilities and the urgency to always improve - is about the only way a non-drafted player like Humphrey can eventually make it in the ultra-competitive NFL.

But he has plenty of teammates who have taken the same path, most notably defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who was a teammate of Humphrey's at Central Michigan. From non-drafted free agent to European export to key reserve, Jenkins is now a starting defensive end with a multi-year contract and a promising future.

"Coming out, he was one of the guys I looked up to," Humphrey said. "When I wasn't drafted, I kind of looked at him, saw what he did, what he went through, being in Europe. There's other guys too - (receiver) Ruvell (Martin) and Atari - they've both been to Europe, been practice squad guys, so I'm just looking to join them on the team next year."

Hopefully healthy this time, and ready to help the Packers improve from within once again.

"You can't think about injuries, because when you start thinking about it, that's when you get hurt again," Humphrey said. "If you try to compensate, try to take pressure off your leg or something, you'll end up hurting your other leg. You just have to forget about it and roll on."

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