Way back in 1964 Mike Ditka caught 75 passes to establish the single season high for receptions by a tight end in Chicago Bears history. Number two on the list was set last year by Martellus Bennett with 65. You factor in the blocking done by Bennett and I think it's safe to say he is the 2nd best tight end ever to don the Navy and Orange of the Bears.
That also makes him the only lock at the position in 2014. I think year two of the TCO could find Bennett setting career highs for a second straight season. He played hurt for a big chunk of 2013, and one of the reasons the Bears couldn't get him an occasional blow was no reliable back up. The blocking tight end role was filled by an offensive linemen and there wasn't a viable pass catcher backing up Bennett.
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A good bet to make it
The Bears did bring back Dante Rosario who played more like an H-Back last year. He was a core special teamer and the Bears moved him around the offense quite a bit. His ability to fill in at fullback might add to his value, but he did only have one catch on the year. Familiarity may give him a leg up on the competition, but he's no lock for the final 53.
On the bubble
I was a little surprised the Bears didn't draft a TE late, or bring in an undrafted free agent or two. Zach Miller has some size and athleticism to his game, having run a 4.53 40 at his 2009 pro day at 6'4", 240. He caught 21 and then 20 balls his first two years as a pro in Jacksonville, but he's been injury prone. Perhaps he can be the Joker type TE that the Bears were hoping to get in Fendo Onobun.
A few weeks ago the Bears signed tight end Jeron Mastrud, who started 12 games last year with the Oakland Raiders. He only had six receptions and was more of a blocker in Oakland, but he's an intelligent player that has sneaky athleticism at 6'5", 255.
Matthew Mulligan is another block-first tight end with starting experience, having last played for the Patriots last season. He seems to have the right attitude, as evidenced by this quote from the 2013 offseason.
"You never shy away from the dirty work. It may not be catching passes like a lot of guys, but my career speaks for itself. I don't have a lot of pass catches, but I don't care, to be quite honest. I'll be the guy that does the dirty work if nobody else wants to. And that's the way I've been able to stay in (the NFL) for six years, and that's a huge blessing."
I think it would behoove the Bears if Mulligan or Mastrund can prove to be a quality blocking option at the position. I thought offensive lineman Eben Britton handled himself adequately as a tight end last year, but having an actual receiving threat at back up tight end would only help the Bears offense.
The Bears began last season with three TEs on the roster, Bennett, Kyle Adams and Steve Maneri, but ended up playing most of the year with just two, Bennett and Rosario. The Bears traded for Rosario last September, which led to Adams being cut, and then Maneri was released in October. With Britton acting as the 3rd TE on game-day, the Bears never added an actual number three TE.
What are your thoughts on the tight end position for the Chicago Bears?