One of my only disappointments from this year’s off-season was that the Bears didn’t bring in any significant receiving tight ends. Both GM Phil Emery and HC Marc Trestman have brought up the need for a H-back / Move TE this off-season, yet they have done next to nothing about it. What they have done is add a new fringe type TE every other week to the point that now they have 6 TEs on the training camp roster. The Bears have kept at least 3 TEs the last two seasons, so I’m guessing they stick with 3 this year. Martellus Bennett is locked in at the #1 TE spot, but there is a serious battle for the remaining TE roster spots. Here is my breakdown of who will win the #2 TE job and who might stick around as the little used 3rd TE.
Matthew Mulligan - He has been with three other teams (Jets, Rams, Patriots) since being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Maine in 2008. Mulligan has 16 catches for 160 yards and 2 TDs in his 5 year career. Clearly catching passes is not his strong suit. What Mulligan does well is run-block. He’s a scrappy player who takes pride in doing the dirty work in the trenches. Word out of camp so far is that the Bears have been surprised with his ability to run and catch the ball. If he can prove to be a reliable short-yardage receiver in addition to the value he brings as a blocker, then I think he has a spot locked up.
Dante Rosario – The Bears acquired Rosario from the Cowboys for their 2014 7th round pick at the end of the preseason last year. Rosario was a valuable run-blocking tight end who played in 15 games for the Bears last year and will probably fill a similar role in 2014 if he makes the squad. He wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game with only 1 catch for 13 yards, but he does have 100 career receptions for 1,119 yards and 8 TDs over his 7 year career. The Bears have released Rosario twice over the last year and re-signed him both times, but their willingness to let him go leads me to believe that they may be looking for an upgrade.
Jeron Mastrud – He started 12 games for the Raiders last season. Mastrud had a career high 6 catches for 88 yards last season but he’s primarily a blocking tight end. He’s a very similar player to Mulligan and Rosario so it seems a bit redundant to sign him, but maybe the Bears see some potential in Mastrud as more than just a blocker. He’s only 26 and did have 106 catches for 1,219 yards and 3 TDs in his college career.
Travis Beckum – The Bears signed Beckum last week. The former 3rd round pick had a good run with the Giants for three years as their #2 TE before breaking his leg in the 2011 Super Bowl. Beckum hasn’t played in the NFL since, but pre-injury Beckum had 4.6 speed and the ability to make plays after the catch. His athleticism differentiates Beckum from the names above him, but he hasn’t played in two years so it’s questionable how much speed he has left. The Bears have been looking for a H-back type TE, so Beckum has a shot to stick if he can beat out the guy below him on this list.
Zach Miller – This isn’t the Zach Miller that used to play for the Seahawks, this Miller was a 6th round pick of the Jaguars in 2009. He is a converted quarterback with intriguing physical ability (4.53 40-time, 37.5 vertical) who has struggled to stay healthy during his brief pro career. In his first two years with the Jags, Miller had 41 catches for 428 yards and 3 TDs but hasn’t been able to stay on the field since. He has good size (6’5, 236), athleticism and the speed to play the H-back role. Miller has been with the Bears since last year, so he should be familiar with the offense and that could give him a slight edge over Beckum if the Bears want an H-Back / Move TE on the roster.
Projected Winner #2 TE: Matthew Mulligan
Dante Rosario has the edge on Mulligan in experience both career wise and with the Bears system, but Mulligan is the only TE I am hearing any buzz about so far in camp. He is a little more athletic than Rosario but besides that their profiles are very similar. I think the fact that the Bears have released Rosario twice and keep bringing in more guys with similar profiles (Mulligan, Mastrud) shows that they aren’t satisfied with Rosario as the #2 TE.
Projected Winner #3 TE: Zach Miller
In Phil Emery’s 1st year as the Bears GM he drafted TE Evan Rodriguez in the 4th round to be the Bears H-back / Move TE. He also signed UFDA Kyle Adams out of Purdue in case E-Rod didn’t pan out. Rodriguez ran into some legal trouble and was released and the Bucs signed Kyle Adams off the Bears practice squad last year. Emery replaced E-Rod / Adams with Fendi Onobun, an Antonio Gates clone except that he couldn’t catch a beach ball, and Zach Miller. Onobun was released a few weeks ago after he dropped a few more perfect passes during mini-camp. That left Miller as the most experienced H-back on the roster. The Bears brought in Travis Beckum as competition for the role, but Beckum hasn’t played since he broke his leg three years ago and the fact that Seattle recently cut him after only a three month try-out doesn’t inspire confidence. Miller may win by default, but he is no slouch. He has elite athleticism and speed for a TE and had 41 catches his first 2 years in the league before injuries waylaid his career. Miller can contribute on special teams while providing a high upside option off the bench if Trestman wants to get creative with his TE usage.