With all the hype surrounding the Chicago Bears 2012 offense and the additions of Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush and Alshon Jeffery, I feel like many people are overlooking the tight end position. As teams focus on big, explosive offenses, the productive tight end is quickly becoming a necessity around the NFL (17 TEs had over 50 catches last year). The Bears don’t have a Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski or even a Brandon Pettigrew, but they should see a big jump in production from the 25 catches for 256 yards from the TE position we saw last year.
Mike Martz is gone and so is Greg Olsen. We, as Bears fans, are left with a clumsy giant in Kellen Davis, a knee-breaker in Matt Spaeth, a rookie fourth-round wild card in Evan Rodriguez and a preseason spark plug in Kyle Adams. Not exactly a fantastic foursome … probably more akin to the four Teletubbies. But this is the crew that Mike Tice will have to work with.
Davis will most likely get the starting nod and showed signs of promise last season, catching five touchdown passes. However, he never looked comfortable running routes and pretty much couldn’t catch the ball unless it was right in his hands. I think Tice will take advantage of his size more than Martz ever did, but I expect that his lack of speed will lead to Davis being used more as a blocker as the season goes on.
Spaeth is purely a blocker. He averages about one catch every two games over his career. If you ask for an honest answer from Matt Forte, he would probably say that Spaeth isn’t even a blocker (see Spaeth’s missed block leading to Forte’s knee injury last season). But, the Bears offensive line needs all the help it can get, so expect to see Spaeth hanging around to protect Cutler throughout the season.
This brings me to two guys I think can have a big impact on the Bears offense, rookie Evan Rodriguez and second-year guy Kyle Adams. They will most likely be fighting for two roster spots along with fullback Tyler Clutts.
Rodriguez didn’t make a lot of noise at the tight end position at Temple (69 Recs, 871 YDs, 7 TDs) due to his size (6’2” 240lbs), but I think his speed (4.5-4.6 in the 40) will help him see the field often with the Bears. For a fourth-round pick, his mini-camp was less than impressive, but he was been improving since training camp opened. He has the ability to create a lot of mismatches with linebackers and should get open in the middle of the field more and more as he becomes familiar with the offense. He is a weapon that he Bears have never really had, and Mike Tice will use his versatility as a blocker and pass catcher in the new offensive scheme. He’s been described as a poor man’s Aaron Hernandez. If he’s half as good as him, the Bears should get their money’s worth.
Kyle Adams is a guy you may not know much about, but he played extremely well last preseason. He’s my sleeper pick to make the team and actually make an impact. He can block and catch with his 6’4” 255-pound frame. I think, entering his second year in the NFL, he has learned what it takes to play with the big boys. Keep an eye out for him in the preseason.
If the Bears decide to keep fullback Tyler Clutts, who showed promise last season, then one of these tight ends won’t make the team. That being said, Tice has been known to go without a fullback as his did for most of his years coaching the Vikings. So, all four of these tight ends could be on the roster and impact the offense, for better or for worse. Let’s hope the Bears see the value of this position and develop at least one of these guys into the long-term answer at tight end.