In the first part of this series we discussed the quarterback position for the Chicago Bears, then it was on to the running backs and now we'll hit on the tight end position.
Martellus Bennett - signed through 2016 - Without question, Bennett is the best tight end to play in Chicago since Mike Ditka. Bennett's 90 receptions in 2014 surpassed Ditka's franchise tight end record of 75. Ditka still holds Chicago's TE mark for yards (1,076) and touchdown receptions (12), so Bennett has something to shoot for in 2015.
While there were a few games last year that Bennett was an absolute monster, there were others that he never seemed to get going. Whether those were due to him fighting through an injury or just him fighting through a desire to give 100% effort, only he knows, but you'd have to imagine he would be very excited with the coaching change in Chicago.
Bennett is a good all around tight end, but if I'm being honest, his blocking hasn't been as good as advertised. As a Bear, I think he's only been serviceable as a blocker, but then again, some of that could be attributed to how former coach Marc Trestman employed him. Maybe now working in Adam Gase's offense, we'll see Bennett be more effective as a blocker.
According to the weekly summaries of Pro Football Focus, Bennett was a +2.5 as a run blocker in 2014 and in his first year working with Trestman, 2013, he was a +0.1. With as dynamic a pass catcher as Bennett is, the blocking could be considered a bonus, but when considering how good he was in the running game before coming to Chicago, I'd like to see him do a bit better.
In 2012, the first year he was a full time starter, his run blocking grade was +8.6 while playing for the New York Giants. From 2008-2011 Bennett was a back up with the Dallas Cowboys and his run blocking grade went from +1.6 as a rookie, to +16.1 in '09, to +18.8 in '10, then finally +15.0 in '12.
Perhaps his decline in run blocking corresponds with having more responsibility in the passing game.
Dante Rosario - free agent - Rosario has been used as an inline TE, as a H-Back, and he was a core special teamer for the Bears the last two seasons. Versatility may be the only thing that gets the 30 year old another small contract in Chicago, but it would not surprise me to see him on a different team in 2015.
Zach Miller - free agent - (Edit: Miller signed a 1 year extension on 2/27) Miller was a one week superstar after catching 6 passes for 68 yards and 2 TDs in the preseason opener of 2014, but he was injured the following week. Unfortunately, injuries have been the prevailing theme throughout Miller's 6 year NFL career. If he's healthy, he can bring a a good skill set to a team, but he's never been able to stay healthy.
The Bears may decide to bring him in to kick the tires, but then again, they could find a younger, healthier, just as athletic prospect among the undrafted crop of free agents.
Blake Annen - signed though 2016 - Annen was promoted from Chicago's practice squad in November, but he only saw action in one game. Annen (6'4", 247) had a great pro day at Cincinnati last March, running a 4.41 forty, putting up 25 reps on the bench with a 34' vertical.
If Annen comes into camp in great shape, he has the type of athleticism that will really stand out in just a helmet and shorts, so I would expect him to catch the eye of the new coaching staff immediately.
Jacob Maxwell - signed through 2016 - Maxwell is with his 3rd NFL team since being an undrafted free agent from Louisiana-Lafayette. At his pro day he ran a 4.68 forty, with 21 reps on the bench and a 38.5' vertical leap. He's another good athlete with good size (6'4", 240), but both he and Annen could be fighting it out for one spot.
2015 OUTLOOK - New offensive coordinator Adam Gase will use some double tight end sets, so having another guy on the roster that he feels can contribute is a must. Gase's two back up TEs in Denver, Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme, are both free agents, and either could be an option in Chicago.
I wouldn't be surprised to see a late round pick spent on the position, but more likely, expect a couple of undrafted free agents to come to camp.
Gase will want a TE with the ability to line up in the backfield on occasion, as he hasn't utilized a traditional fullback in his two seasons as a play caller in the NFL.
What are your thoughts on the tight end position group for the Bears in 2015?