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Zero Tolerance, Franks Can't Afford Rookie Mistakes


Bubba Franks is the first tight end drafted by the Packers in the first round since 1970, when they drafted Rich McGeorge.

On one of his first days of training camp with the Green Bay Packers, rookie tight end Bubba Franks bobbled a pass intended for him over the middle.

Linebacker Bernardo Harris got the interception. Franks got an earful from the Packers' coaches.

Welcome to the NFL, where the smallest mistakes are magnified and the highest draft choices come under the most intense scrutiny.

"This isn't like college, when you could take a day off every now and then," says the 6-foot 6-inch, 252-pound Franks, whose real first name is Daniel.

"Here, you're fighting for a job every day.

"Every level you go, things are picked up a notch. I've been used to the college level. Now it's time for me to get used to the NFL level."

It might seem harsh that one dropped pass in the first week of camp would invite a verbal tirade. But the Packers need the learning curve to be short for Franks, whom they selected with the 14th pick in the draft last April.

Franks was Green Bay's highest choice since it took cornerback Terrell Buckley fifth in the 1992 draft. And with 1999 starter Mark Chmura no longer on the team (he was waived June 5) and backup tight end Tyrone Davis coming off a disappointing season, the Packers are counting on Franks to contribute almost immediately.

Franks relishes the challenge.

"I didn't declare to come out early just to be sitting around for a year," he says. "I'm here to play, to make an impact."

At Miami, Franks red shirted his first year, then started eight games as a freshman in 1997. He was an All-Big East Conference selection as a sophomore in 1998, when he caught 13 passes for 179 yards. In 1999, he started every game, caught 45 passes for 565 yards and 5 touchdowns, and was named a first-team All-America by The Sporting News and Football News. That convinced him-and the Packers-that he was ready for the NFL.

"He's a big-time player from a big-time program," Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf says. "We feel very strongly that he can make a significant contribution to us."

That may or may not come initially as a starter, but Franks is prepared.

"For a lot of guys, it's maybe their second or third year when they really start to play," he says. "I have to be ready to go a lot earlier."

Apparently, that was not lost on quarterback Brett Favre, who got Franks up to speed in the first week of camp.

"When I first got here, he was putting the passes on me, but they weren't as hard," Franks says with a laugh. "Now he has no fear. He's trying to break my fingers."

For a time, it appeared Franks might not be signed in time for training camp. But after some marathon negotiating sessions between the Packers and agent Leigh Steinberg, Franks signed a five-year deal with the club on July 19. He missed the first day of practice only because his flight out of Texas was canceled.

After a few days of practice, Franks stepped onto historic Lambeau Field for the Packers' annual Family Night Scrimmage on July 29.

"That was exciting," he says. "It was just an intrasquad game, but as soon as I came out during pregame I couldn't help looking all around."

The 50,000 fans in attendance were excited, too, chanting, "Bubba!" and reserving some of their loudest ovations for the rookie.

"They were waiting for me to do something," he says. "I caught a little four-yard pass, and they just exploded."

Later, Franks caught another 4-yard pass for a touchdown.

And this time, he earned nothing but praise from the coaches.

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