The Green Bay Packers' tight ends have heard throughout mini-camps and training camp that they're going to be a big part of the offense this year.
So far, Head Coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski are paying it more than lip service. Both of them believe in using the tight end to stretch the field, both vertically with routes up the seam and horizontally with drags across the middle.
As a consequence, rarely does an 11-on-11 series go by in camp that Bubba Franks, David Martin, Donald Lee, Tory Humphrey or Zac Alcorn isn't catching at least one pass, and the group is loving the attention being paid to them.
"You can see it out there on the field," Martin said. "You get excited when a play is called, especially with the quarterback we have. You never know where he's going to go with the ball. You always have to be ready, and Coach McCarthy is putting us in positions we can get the ball."
The tight ends would have liked to produce more in the preseason opener against San Diego, but five sacks and other scrambles limited the quarterbacks to just 18 completions. Martin and Alcorn caught one pass each.
The numbers were better in the Family Night scrimmage, when Lee, Martin and Humphrey combined for eight of the team's 27 receptions. Lee had five of them.
Franks has been in and out of practice with minor injuries but is clearly the leader and top performer in the group, looking to come back from a frustrating 2005, the first injury-riddled season of his Pro Bowl career. Meanwhile Martin is looking to stay healthy and remain consistent after five seasons battling injuries and uneven production.
On Tuesday, McCarthy said Martin was having the most consistent camp of the tight ends, with the hope it continues.
"I don't want to go out there and make a couple big plays and the next day come out and have a bad practice," Martin said. "I'm just trying to keep going up, up, up that ladder and try to have a healthy and safe camp and a healthy year. That's my goal."
Lee, a free agent picked up five days before the 2005 season opener, had a strong first year as a Packer with 33 catches for 294 yards despite learning the offense on the fly. He said he feels more comfortable this year, having been around an entire year to study the playbook.
"In the offseason, I took advantage of that," Lee said. "Now I think I'm way ahead of the game."
Humphrey and Alcorn are longshots to break into the group because the three tight ends in front of them are so solid and experienced, but they have flashed ability as well.
In the end, those seeing regular action will likely be the most well-rounded, able to block for the run or pass as well as catch the ball when their number is called.
"They're doing more pass protection than they have in the past," McCarthy said. "So we're real excited about the depth of that group and (being able to) tap into it."