The Bears' tight ends aren't being talked about enough, because they are going to be an important part of the new Bears offense not only for catching passes but for blocking as well. In fact, as history has shown us, new offensive coordinator Mike Martz likes to use his tight ends to block much more than he likes to use them to catch passes.
Does this spell the end of pass catching greatness for tight ends in Chicago?
The biggest ball-catching threat the Bears have had at the tight end position has been Greg Olsen. When Olsen (and his quarterback) are on—like they were last year at times—they do very well together.
The knock on Olsen is that he isn’t very aggressive, and not only does he not like to block, but he doesn’t like to put his body on the line to make a catch either. This was a problem last season.
There were rumors of the Bears trying to trade Olsen this offseason but nothing panned out. The Bears definitely wouldn’t have gotten anything close to what they were looking for had they traded him around draft time, so they have decided to keep him with the team and use him in their new offense.
What will his role be? It’s possible that Olsen could be brought in on passing downs, but defenses would be able to key in on that and take him out of the play. Why? Because they will know that he’s not in there to block (thanks to his inability or unwillingness to do so).
Another possible thing the Bears could do with Olsen is split him out as a receiver more. He has the speed to play outside and could end up being a threat there.
Long time Bear Desmond Clark could be coming to a crossroads in his career with the team this season. He wouldn’t be a bad fit in the new offense as he can catch passes and block, but his age and his injury history may force the Bears to have to make a decision on him. If he can stay healthy, Clark would be an ideal fit in the offense thanks to his dual ability and the fire and passion that he still has for the game.
But will the Bears go with youth at this position? It’s tough to know, but if they want decent blocking and experience, they should go with Clark.
Brandon Manumaleuna was brought on board to block, plain and simple. He hasn’t really been used as a pass catcher during his career in the NFL but has blocked in a Martz offense before so the Bears paid him a lot of money to come block in Martz’s latest version.
There is no doubt that Manumaleuna is going to make the roster this summer because the Bears wouldn’t pay him all that money just to cut him loose in or at the end of training camp.
This season could end up being the last in Chicago for Kellen Davis. Davis showed some flashes last season but never got a lot of time and hasn’t developed quite yet. He is a pretty good pass catcher but he isn’t as refined a blocker as the Bears would like to see and as we have stressed time and again, blocking is critical in the Bears' new offense.
Davis will get plenty of opportunities to show his value this summer, but if he can’t improve his blocking ability then he probably won’t be on the roster at the end of training camp. However, if he does come through and improves, it could be a decision between keeping Davis and keeping Clark. Will youth prevail?
Finally, the Bears brought in Richard Angulo to add some depth to the position moving through the offseason. Angulo is a decent enough blocker and pass catcher, but he may not have the skills necessary to make it in the Bear’s new offense. He could push Davis but he isn’t going to overtake him by any means. Look for Angulo to get cut sometime towards the end of training camp.
With the new offense in Chicago, the tight end position has become one of the most important positions on offense but not for catching passes. The tight ends will have to block, and block a lot this season so expect to see a lot of Manumaleuna and whomever the Bears decide to have line up behind him.
Olsen may be the odd man out (although he isn’t going to be let go unless there is a trade for him during training camp) when it comes to starting and may see time in different packages.
Manumaleuna may end up being the starter when it’s all said and done. He is a big tight end, a great blocker and even has decent hands. This is exactly what the new offense needs. Clark and Davis will probably battle it out for the third spot with Clark having the edge there. Angulo will be a memory after training camp.