Now, one year removed from his departure, the Bears are beginning to realize what they lost.
Gilmore wasn't flashy. He scored only three touchdowns during his time in Chicago, and hauled in a mere 21 passes. His contributions weren't the type that could be measured by statistics. But he was always there, whether it was double tight end sets, heavy red zone formations, or kick returns.
Given the success of the spread offense in the college game, tight ends are rapidly changing from undersized offensive linemen to oversized wide receivers. As a result, John Gilmore is part of a dying breed. Finding a tight end nowadays who is a skilled in-line blocker is almost as difficult as finding a competent lead-blocking fullback.
At first glance, it doesn't seem as if the Bears are in need of a tight end. Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen both play prominent roles in Chicago's offense; enough so that Lovie Smith has said he considers them both starters, which, given the team's new tendency to run double tight end sets, is true.
Clark and Olsen provide such great depth at the position that many fans were initially angry when the Bears selected Michigan State's Kellen Davis in the fifth round of the 2008 Draft.
As the aging Desmond Clark's career winds down, Davis may be a suitable replacement. Davis, however, has not been able provide the same type of blocking speciality that John Gilmore brought to the field.
In fact, as offensive tackle Chris Williams recovered from his back surgery last season, the Bears began to coax him into active play as their third tight end in short-yardage situations as an alternative to Kellen Davis.
Adding an extra offensive lineman to a set provides a big body, but lacks the speed and agility that a tight end could provide, especially in the kick return game.
One potential option to fill the void still left by Gilmore's departure is Lance Louis, a seventh-round rookie from San Diego State. Louis has experience playing both tight end and guard, and is a huge body at 6'3" and 300 pounds.
The Bears are also reportedly looking at Michael Gaines, who was recently released by the Lions. Before the Detroit used a first-round pick on tight end Brandon Pettigrew, they had intended on using Gaines as a blocker, both at the line of scrimmage and out of the backfield.
Given the trouble the Bears had moving the ball in short-yardage situations last season, a blocking specialist is something they are sorely in need of. With the offensive line having received a major facelift in free agency, they should fare better right from the get-go.
But Matt Forte is not a power rusher. Neither is Kevin Jones. The Bears need a solid push up front, whether they're trying to punch the ball into the end zone or pick up a first down.
As the Bears learned last November under the lights of the Metrodome, mere inches can mean the difference between watching the playoffs from a sofa or watching the playoffs from a three-point stance.
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