Yesterday we looked back on the 2013 and 2014 opening day 53 man rosters from the Denver Broncos, in order to get a better idea how the Chicago Bears could open up this year at running back. We'll do the same to speculate on the tight end position today.
While working together in Denver the last two seasons, head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase kept four tight ends in 2014, and they kept 3 to open the 2013 season. With Gase's offense not employing a traditional fullback, I was surprised they only rolled with 3 last year, but further investigation showed a lot of three wide outs sets in Gase's O.
But I'll get more into the wide outs tomorrow.
Under Marc Trestman the last two years, starting TE Martellus Bennett rarely left the field. He was in for over 90% of the offensive snaps each season. Last year the Bears had Dante Rosario get 29.7% of the offensive reps and in 2013 Rosario was at 17.3%.
Compare that to the Bronco TE position from 2013 and 2014. Number one tight end Julius Thomas led the way with 74.6% of the reps in 2013 and 61.3% in 2014. There were two other tight ends that saw action on offense last year, with Virgil Green picking up 34.9% and Jacob Tamme getting 24.4% of the reps. Green was at 26.4% in 2013, with Tamme at 21.9% and Joel Dreessen at 13.2%. Injuries may have led to Denver using the position group more, but they were a team that liked going with double tight end sets.
Adam Gase may really want to have more than two tight ends active in his weekly game-plans, but until someone proves worthy, we could have a healthy dose of Martellus Bennett again this year.
The aforementioned Bennett is one of the better tight ends in the league. He's a good receiver, he's solid after the catch and his blocking is above average when he puts his mind to it. I thought he played dinged up last year, but that didn't stop him from having a career year. Bennett also gives the offense some flexibility because he can line up split wide, and also operate out of the slot.
A good bet to make it
I think Rosario sticks around because he has some H-Back experience and with no fullback on the roster, having a TE that is versatile is a must. Rosario is also an experienced special teamer, but if Rosario is the best #2 on the roster, that's not good.
On the bubble
I know there are a lot of Bears fans that are expecting big things from Zach Miller, but can we be real for a moment? Miller hasn't played in an NFL game since 2011. Health has been an ongoing issue for him and until he proves he can be stay on the field, he's squarely on the bubble. He looks the part of a Joker TE, but various knee, shoulder, foot, head, ankle, calf and pectoral injuries have stunted his development.
Blake Annen projects to a move-TE too, but he's lacking experience. The 6'4", 247 pounder ran a blazing 4.41 forty at his pro day with 25 reps on the bench. He's definitely athletic enough for the NFL, but he needs a good training camp and preseason to solidify a roster spot.
Of all the bubble players, I think veteran Bear Pascoe has the best chance of sticking. He was signed to win a job as a blocking tight end and he'll compete with Chris Pantale to hopefully fill that niche. Pascoe has played in 82 games with 34 starts in his 6 year career, while Pantale has only appeared in 5 games in 2 years spent shuffling between the practice squad and the active roster of the New York Jets.
The longest shot of the tight ends is undrafted free agent Brian Vogler from Alabama. EDIT: Vogler was waived/injured
My gut tells me the Bears carry 4 tight ends this season. Bennett, Rosario, and one of the Joker guys (Miller or Annen), and then one of the blockers (Pascoe or Pantale).
What do you think the Bears do at the TE position?