The Chicago Bears tried to upgrade their tight end position after shipping Martellus Bennett out, but things didn’t quite work out. They hosted a veteran free agent, they put an offer sheet out for a restricted free agent, but neither ended up in Chicago.
Instead the Bears are going to roll the dice on a few players with an injury history and a few other youngsters.
We know the Bears want to utilize their tight ends in a number of ways. They’ll line them up in-line, split out, in the backfield and flexed. They’ll ask them to stretch the field, but also to block in the running game. There may not be a complete tight end on the roster, but there are traits in them that offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains can use.
Last year the Bears opened the season with three tight ends on the 53 man roster, but there’s a possibility they could keep a 4th this year if someone stands out and proves to be versatile enough for some H-Back duties.
The Bears brought back Zach Miller and he looks to be the front runner to open up as the starting tight end. He has the speed, hands (he didn’t drop a single catchable ball in 2015), route running ability, versatility and he has shown enough of a willingness to block to be a TE1 in the NFL. There is that injury history to be concerned with, but hopefully after playing in 15 games last year, the 31 year old Miller is starting a new, healthier chapter of his NFL career.
A good bet to make it
Miller is the clear cut number one, but after him, I think it’s really wide open. The Bears will probably keep one tight end that excels as a blocker, with a 3rd or 4th spot for a more versatile guy.
On the bubble
If I have to give a slight edge to any of the other TEs on the roster, I’d have to go with 2nd year pro Khari Lee. The Bears traded for him last year and he played in all 16 games with 7 starts. Lee played 126 snaps on offense (11.6%) and another 148 on special teams (32.4%). He didn’t show me much as a pass catcher and I wasn’t impressed with his blocking, so I think there’s a chance he’s beat out this offseason.
Rob Housler reminds me of Miller in that he’s an athletic receiving threat with an injury history. The 28 year old former 3rd round draft pick of the Cardinals had 12 catches as a rookie in 2011, 45 the following year and 39 in 2013, but then the injuries started to mount up. A hip slowed him in 2014 and last year the Browns waived him off their injured reserve list (hamstring) before he landed with the Bears in December.
The Bears did add a veteran to the mix when they signed Tony Moeaki after a mini-camp try out. He’s battled numerous injuries during his six year’s in the NFL, but if he can prove to be 100% healthy, he’s a solid all around tight end.
Gannon Sinclair (6’7”, 258) is a holdover from last year’s practice squad. He’s a decent athlete, but he’ll have to improve his blocking.
I’m rooting for converted defensive lineman Greg Scruggs, who at 6’3”, 277 pounds, can be a force in the running game if he can get his technique right. The 25 year old is definitely athletic enough to make the position change (check out his pro day numbers) , and he did play a little TE in college, so perhaps he’ll be a camp surprise.
The Bears have a couple of undrafted free agents in camp, Ben Braunecker (6’4”, 255) from Harvard and Joe Sommers (6’3”, 240) from Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Both are good athletes that showed to be good blockers at the collegiate level. But the Ivy League and the WIAC are a far cry form the NFL.
Sinclair, Braunecker and Sommers are all practice squad candidates if they can’t crack the 53.
What are your thoughts on the TE depth chart?