Time for number four in my ongoing series looking at potential roster turnover for the 2010 season. After hitting on quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, we finish up the so called offensive "skill players" with tight end.
Last off season I thought this was the most secure position heading into the '09 season. I didn't expect any changes then, but this year I could see the Bears taking things in a different direction. A lot will depend on the new offensive coordinator. Will he be a guy that likes the double tight end set? Will he be a coach that favors a one TE set with emphasis on the fullback? Maybe he'll prefer using one TE with an H-Back? Or maybe a guy that would rather use more four WR formations? I'll go into this breakdown under the assumption the Bears aren't looking to stray too far away from what they've been in the past.
TIGHT ENDS - In 2008 the Bears tight ends combined for 95 catches, 941 yards, with 4 touchdowns. And like most people I expected a jump in production (even before the Jay Cutler trade), but then after Cutler was acquired I reeeallly expected a jump in production. Then after all the reports of the chemistry between Jay and Greg Olsen, I reeeallly, reeeallly expected a jump in production. Alas, the tight ends didn't flourish. Their touchdowns did increase all the way up to 13, but receptions were down to 88, and yards to 832. I'm sure part of the blame falls on Jay Cutler and all those damn picks, and some of the blame falls on Desmond Clark missing so much time. But irregardless I still expected more from this group.
Greg Olsen - Signed through 2011 - I had no idea there was a vocal bunch of Bears fans that can't stand Olsen. 'He's overrated', 'he's a bust', 'he can't block', 'he's soft'... All this for a guy that has improved his numbers every year he's been in the league. Has improved his blocking every year he's been in the league. And has operated underneath without a real legitimate #1 threat at wide receiver to loosen up zones for him. He'll never be a bruising blocker, but anyone that says he hasn't improved is clueless. If you can find a TE with great hands, speed, and the ability to block, you'll find an elite Hall of Fame worthy talent. Most tight ends in the league have strengths and weaknesses, but it's the willingness of Olsen to work on his blocking that leads me to believe he'll be OK. He's payed with another guy that was knocked for his blocking early in his career, but has become someone that is now considered above average. Someone who I'm sure has helped young Olsen along, who is a real pro, and that someone is...
Desmond Clark - Signed through 2010 - Clark came into the league as a wide receiver (from Wake Forest) and through hard work has become a solid tight end about to enter his 12th year in the league. I'm just not sure it'll be spent in Chicago. His contract isn't that out of line for a #2 TE with his skill set ($1 million plus a $475,000 roster bonus), but the Bears may want a #2 that could be more of a player on the special teams now that Olsen is the clear cut #1. Also depending on the new offense that will be implemented any day now... the Bears may go away from so many double TE sets. I could see the Bears poking around to gauge his value with the hopes of picking up a late round draft pick, he is a legit starting TE in the league after all, and if a team has a big enough need you never know. Or the Bears could cut him if they're comfortable enough in thinking they have his replacement already on the roster in...
Kellen Davis - Signed through 2011 - Here's yet another TE that came into the league with questions surrounding his blocking. To his credit he's improved in that area from year 1 to year 2. There's no question Davis has the build to be a good blocker, he just has to keep working at it. With the way Davis filled in adequately for Clark early in the season, it gave them something to think about.
Kevin Brock - Signed a reserves/futures contract - Brock was signed to the practice squad late in the season then given his current contract earlier this month. The Bears are his fouth team after being undrafted out of Rutgers. He came out of college with a rep of being a good blocker, and I'm sure that's why he's on the Bears now, they just haven't found that reliable run blocking TE since John Gilmore left. For those of you that don't know Brock (6'5" 255) he ran a 4.64 40 at his pro day, with a 34' vertical, and did 24 reps on the bench. At the very least he'll be in camp competing for a spot on the roster.
2010 TE OUTLOOK - The Bears are a sure bet to carry 3 TE's on the roster and stash a fourth on the practice squad, that is unless Mike Martz is hired as the new O.C., then all bets are off. The Bears went with 4 on the active roster starting off 2009 (remember Michael Gaines), but that was because they liked the idea of having a true blocking TE around. I think the Bears would like Brock to take a step and become viable enough as a blocker to warrant his inclusion on the 2010 roster.
I'd have no problem if they started off the '10 season with the same 4 as they ended '09 with, but I just have a feeling Clark's roster spot will be up for grabs. I wouldn't expect any veteran free agents to be brought in, nor would I expect the Bears to spend a draft pick on a TE. Look for them to keep an eye out for a couple undrafted rookie free agents to come in camp and push for a job.
Next week I'll finish up the offense by looking at the linemen on Tuesday. Then stay with the trenches and look at the defensive line on Thursday.