Our Confidence Check series has been pretty positive in relation to the Bears depth charts at quarterback and running back. On the running back confidence poll, only 2% had a low level of confidence for the position, and only two votes out of 310 had zero confidence (I think Kev voted twice).
Now we move on to the tight end and fullback positions - and yes, I'm still classifying Evan Rodriguez as a fullback until Marc Trestman sends out a memo modifying it. Remember, we'll gauge confidence levels at high, low, or zero for each position on the depth chart, then give you our overall confidence level on the group and you can agree or disagree in the poll or comments section.
Starting Tight End: Martellus Bennett (6th year in NFL)
Job Responsibilities: Ability to provide adequate pass and run blocking when called upon, as well as exploit the middle of the field in the passing game. Give the quarterback a solid receiving option - especially near the goal line - when Brandon Marshall is quadruple covered.
Job So Far: Bennett was a disappointment in Dallas, where the Cowboys picked Bennett in the second round to be a complement to Jason Witten. Instead, Bennett never topped twenty catches in a season and went three straight years without a touchdown catch. Last year Bennett was revitalized with the Giants, catching fifty-five balls and five touchdowns while averaging 11.4 yards per reception. Still has a tendency to drop catchable balls - but not anywhere near Kellen Davis-like levels - and tied for tenth most drops among all tight ends with six (on eighty-eight targets).
Confidence Level: High. With Bennett, its important to consider exactly what your expectations for him are. He's not a top-five tight end in the league, which is fine, because he's not a bottom-five guy either (like we had last year). He's a remarkable improvement over Davis, and if he can duplicate last year's numbers and performance, that's great for the Bears and Jay Cutler. If you expect him to catch 65-75 balls and ten-plus touchdowns, I would have considerable doubts, but he's the clear-cut best option Chicago has at tight end position, and for once, that's not a bad thing.
Backup Tight Ends: Steve Maneri (3rd year in NFL), Kyle Adams (3rd year with Bears), Brody Eldridge (4th year in NFL), Fendi Onobun (4th year in NFL)
Job Responsibilities: As a group, must be able to adequately fulfill the duties of the starting tight end, but do so with diminished playing time. The backup group will not be a focus of the offense, but should be able to provide small sample sizes of decent production when called upon.
Job So Far: Maneri emerged as an under-the-radar free agent that a lot of teams were interested in this offseason due to his blocking prowess with the Chiefs. That makes sense since he is a converted offensive lineman is a huge tight end (6'7", 280 lbs) but has barely any career receiving stats (6 catches, 52 yards). Eldridge (14 catches, 84 yards) and Onobun (2 catches, 15 yards) have bounced around the league for a few years and are hoping to latch on with the Bears. Their primary competition is last year's backup Kyle Adams (4 catches, 40 yards).
Confidence Level: Low. Its hard to justify a high level of confidence in a group of backup tight ends with barely any evidence to prove it. I like the fact that Chicago seemingly picked up Maneri when he was a hot free agent, and he should fit into Matt Spaeth's old blocking specialist job well. The worst-case scenario for the third tight end is having Adams back, which I'm okay with, but the lack of career receptions from this group is a bit troubling, even though the next guy mentioned below could help solve that issue.
Starting Fullback: Evan Rodriguez (2nd year with Bears)
Job Responsibilities: Occasionally be the lead blocker for the running backs, be a receiving option out of the backfield, provide the offensive coordinator with a versatile skill-set to utilize in a variety of ways.
Job So Far: Well, he did get arrested this offseason, but was cleared of the charges. His rookie year began with dreams of Rodriguez doing his best Aaron Hernandez impersonation, but instead he gave us a few missed games due to injuries and four catches. He didn't look bad last year for a fourth-round rookie, but he never really became a cohesive part of the offense, either. Your call if the blame for that falls more on Rodriguez or Mike Tice.
Confidence Level: Low. Rodriguez will get his chance to be an integral member of the Bears' offensive unit this year. He's the only listed fullback on the roster, and his background as a tight end allows the coaching staff to move him around to a variety of positions on the field. He should benefit from having an offensive head coach/coordinator that knows what an offense is actually supposed to look lilke, but he just hasn't done anything to warrant a high level of confidence to me yet. I hope I'm wrong, and I believe that Trestman can put Rodriguez in the best possible position to be successful.
Overall Level of Confidence: Low.
I love the Bennett signing (as I'm sure we all do) and respect the Maneri-Spaeth swap-out. But a lack of receiving options at tight end other than Bennett scares me immensely as it just takes one injury to put our tight end depth back at last year's level. Rodriguez is really the linchpin, I think, as to whether you have high or low confidence in this group. If he can develop into a solid secondary receiving option behind Bennett, then the offense will have a chance to be more balanced and talented. If not, then the tight end position is like the Bears wide receiver position last year: one player stands out, the rest drop the ball.