For some reason it's become customary for me to kick the Positional Battles series off with the Tight End position, so this will be the 3rd year in a row for that. In looking back at last years post, I find it funny that the accompanying poll was about whether or not Desmond Clark, who was surprisingly re-signed before the 2011 season, would see the field more than in 2010. Voters resoundingly believed he would, then the Bears went ahead and cut Clark before the year started. This year the Tight End position appears to be back in a big way with the Mike Martz O being scrapped for the Mike Tice playbook. Playing TE in Chicago appears to be cool again.
I've long been a fan of the tight end position. My early years as an NFL fan were spent marveling at the likes of Todd Christensen, Ozzie Newsome, and. Then I discovered some old film of Mike Ditka, and my love for the position was cemented. In my opinion a good TE is a crucial part of a successful offense. My college coach once said that a tight end should be the best football player on the roster, as he has to be able to block like a lineman and catch the ball like a receiver, and that stuck with me. Through my years coaching I've always featured the tight end position in my offenses. In any level of football, a solid run game coupled with a savvy tight end is like stealing when you run a play action pass.
Look for Jay Cutler to fake to the running back and roll out, while the TE fully engages with a defender before peeling off and darting to the sideline, mirroring the QB. It's a nearly unstoppable play, and once the defense tries to take away the TE, the next level receiver should be running free.
I'm excited to see a full season from Bears projected starter Kellen Davis now that the shackles of the Martzfense are off. Kellen Davis, due to his size, is often thought of as a blocking tight end, but if you were to label him coming out of Michigan State you'd call him a receiver first. He's greatly improved as a blocker during his time on the Bears, and he's now able to get the job done with good body position. He's also gotten much better in using leverage, something the 6'7" Davis had to work on. He's had some outstanding catch and run plays during his Bears tenure that is hopefully a sign of things to come.
My guess is blocking TE Matt Spaeth is a lock to make the roster. He was brought in last year because he fit the mold of a Martz TE, but every team needs a guy that can block from the position. Spaeth has shown good enough hands in his limited opportunities to be a receiving threat while on the field, and his blocking is above average for the position.
Kyle Adams came out of nowhere last off-season and his ability to work in the H-Back role made the aforementioned Dez Clark expendable. Adams made the 53 man roster out of camp in 2011, but an injury led to him going on IR shortly after the season started. Adams' ability to line up both on the line of scrimmage and in the backfield may make him more valuable to Tice. There's a good chance he sticks again, but it may come down to him against a fullback for a spot.
Make sure you check out Sam's latest post where he looks at how the Bears roster breaks down numbers-wise the last four years.
Rookie Evan Rodriguez has been running with the starters on occasion, and he's had the coaches install a few plays just for him. He's definitely gonna break camp on the final 53. His size, 6'1" 239, makes him more suited to a fullback or H-Back role, but he's a tight end first. I think he'll bring an added dimension to the offense.
Draylen Ross (6'4" 271) is on the roster as a block first TE, and unless he really outshines Spaeth in that area, look for him to be a practice squad candidate. Local product Brandon Venson was featured by our very own Dave Gilbert in his Flying Under The Radar series, so check that out for all the info you need on him. The 6'3 245 pound undrafted rookie does bring some receiving skills and athleticism to the position, but he's a long shot to stick.
I see the Bears carrying 4 tight ends in 2012, but what do you guys think? Hit the poll and sound off in the comment thread about the tight end position.
And just in case you missed it, long time WCG member SMD has a Fanpost up for everybody to get their guesses in on Chicago's final 53 man roster.