For the majority of the 2013 season the Chicago Bears only carried two tight ends on their active roster. Steve Maneri, whom the Bears signed last off season to be their blocking TE, was released when Jay Cutler was injured to make room for 3rd quarterback Jordan Palmer.
Rather than go out and get another tight end, head coach Marc Trestman decided to use back up offensive lineman Eben Britton in the blocking TE role. Britton lined up on the line of scrimmage, he lined up flexed, and he went in motion, just like a "real" TE. Britton did a good job, but if I were to guess on the 2014 plan, I think a 3rd tight end is in the cards.
Here's how the Bears stack up at the position right now.
Martellus Bennett - Signed through 2016 - Bennett was the best Chicago tight end since Mike Dikta. He showed play-making ability, plus he was an above average blocker in my opinion. His pass blocking and run blocking grades from Pro Football Focus were both in the red at -3.5 and -3.8 respectively, but that's a bit misleading. Of the 16 games graded as a run blocker, and the 16 games graded as a pass blocker -- a total of 32 grades -- he was in the red only 5 times. Four of which came in the first three weeks of the season. From week four on, he only had one negatively graded blocking performance.
Bennett also played through a few bumps and bruises, bringing a toughness to the position that hasn't been seen in a long, long time.
Dante Rosario - Free agent - Rosario was an active special teams player for the Bears, playing in 71% (351) of Chicago's special teams plays. He also played some offense, racking up 183 plays at both tight end and in an H-Back type role. I'd say the odds he returns are about 50/50.
PFF had him with a favorable +4.9 overall grade on offense, and a neutral 0.5 as a special teamer. Rosario's best grade came as a run blocker, where he racked up a +5.5. He only caught one pass on the season, but he was only targeted four times.
Fendi Onobun - Signed a reserve/futures contract - Yes, Fendi is still on the team, and it's all because of his potential. He's 6'6", 260 pounds, he runs in the 4.45 range, and he can jump about 37 inches. The problem has been he hasn't picked up on the nuances of football, including consistently catching the ball. He's been on six different teams because he has Antonio Gates type potential. But there's an old coaches' saying: potential will get you fired.
Good thing for the Bears, they aren't counting on him being a major player in 2014. Anything they get from him will be a bonus, but if he finally "gets it" this off season, Onobun could be a weapon for Marc Trestman.
2014 OUTLOOK - I don't think the Bears roll with just 2 TEs next season. I think they really hope Onobun can find some consistent hands this off season, because his speed, size and athleticism could be a match up nightmare, but again, he's not someone they are counting on.
The Bears may look at the bargain free agent market to fill a role, but I think they'll look to the rookie pool to bring in some competition. Either via a late round draft pick, or with a few undrafted guys, the Bears will add to the tight end position.
What are your thoughts on the tight end position in 2014?