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Packers' tight ends in a tight spot

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - The Green Bay Packers want more production out of their tight ends this season. But first they'll need enough players at the position - a growing concern after a tough start to the preseason this weekend.

"It's kind of the nature of our business in training camp," general manager Ted Thompson said between practices Sunday. "You're always an ankle sprain away from being a little bit light at one position."

Turns out a broken left ankle sustained by Tory Humphrey in the first camp practice Saturday touched off a chain reaction of setbacks at the position.

Fellow backups Zac Alcorn and Clark Harris succumbed to heat-related cramping toward the end of the morning practice Sunday.

Bubba Franks, who is in jeopardy of losing the starting spot he has held since his rookie season in 2000, was held out in the morning because he's being limited to one practice a day. Franks practiced Sunday night.

With Donald Lee as his only available tight end, head coach Mike McCarthy abruptly ended the morning practice with 12 reps left in the final team period.

"The danger with one guy going down is, all of a sudden, it puts stress on the remaining guys," Thompson said. "We were counting on having five (to work with in camp), and we had the rotations worked out. Then, it kind of gets all muddled up." Humphrey, a second-year player, is sidelined indefinitely with the ankle injury.

He collided with a defensive player on the back side of a pass play in practice Saturday and had to be taken off the field on a cart.

"It looks like it's a significant injury. I don't have the exact time on when we expect him back or if it's season-ending," McCarthy said.

Humphrey played in seven games last year before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury in a game at Minnesota on Nov. 12. He showed progress on the field in offseason workouts this year and was drawing consideration for the starting job that apparently is no longer Franks', for now.

Franks was officially demoted to No. 2 on the depth chart, behind Lee, when training camp opened.

While McCarthy has tried to downplay the significance of the pecking order that appears on paper, the demotion might have been warranted.

Franks, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, had a career-low 25 receptions for the second straight season. He didn't have a touchdown catch for the first time, after grabbing 29 his first six years.

"Bubba needs to have a big year for us," McCarthy said. Thompson is hoping for the same and doesn't believe Franks' best days are behind him, even at age 29.

"He still moves around pretty good. He still looks good to me," Thompson said. "I'm sure he'd be the first to say he had a down year last year, and we're looking for a little bit of a bounce-back."

Franks wasn't available for comment in the locker room between practices Sunday.

The entire tight-end group, with or without Humphrey, is in need of a resurgence. It had a total of only 56 catches and two touchdowns last season.

The lack of production by the tight ends was a culprit in the Packers' NFC-worst ranking for red-zone efficiency (inside the opponent's 20-yard line).

"It's a combination of things," Thompson said. "Sometimes, it's getting it to the guy at the right time or the guy actually catching it or maybe playing a particular defense or something like that.

"But, I think all NFL teams need production out of that position, and we're looking forward to getting some, too." The Packers lost perhaps their most productive tight end of 2006, David Martin, who signed with Miami as a free agent. He had 21 catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns but missed five of the last six games because of injury.

Alcorn made the team as an undrafted rookie last year. His prospects for keeping a roster spot might have improved with Humphrey's major injury.

Despite experiencing dehydration, blurred vision and goosebumps Sunday morning, Alcorn returned to the field for the night practice, as did Harris.

"I can't let my other tight ends down," he said. "If I bowed out, there would only be a couple of us left."

Alcorn, though, dropped out again in the second practice.

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