As the Bears pull into the post-Olsen era in Chicago, there are several questions that come to mind.
During his tenure in Chicago, G-Reg led the team in receptions (194) and receiving touchdowns (20) and was second in receiving yardage (1981). He was quarterback Jay Cutler's favorite target and a much-needed relief valve for the carousel of quarterbacks the Bears saw during Olsen's time in the Windy City.
So who replaces that production? Who provides that relief valve for Cutler when things get hot?
Olsen was traded because offensive coordinator Mike Martz doesn't value tight ends as receivers in his scheme. So it's unlikely that another tight end will replace Olsen in terms of production, but still within the realm of possibility.
Someone from the wide receivers or running backs corps seem like the most likely option, though it is possible that a tight end could step up. Olsen did receive 62 targets last season in a system that doesn't value tight ends, so it's not as if Martz absolutely refuses to use his tight ends.
So who steps up? Will it be someone already on the roster? Or will the Bears bring in another free agent that will replace Greg Olsen's production in the offense?
Today we'll take a look at options both on the team and still available in free agency who could replace that production.
This is probably the least likely option.
For starters, Olsen asked for a trade last season because Martz's scheme wasn't a good fit for him. It isn't a good fit for any other receiving tight end either.
But that's not to say that it isn't possible for Martz to sign another tight end to fill that void.
Matt Spaeth has already been signed. The former Steeler is a Martz-style TE in the mold of a younger Brandon Manumaleuna. At 6'7" and 270 pounds, Spaeth is a large blocking TE who's never been much of a receiver and that won't change in Chicago. Count Spaeth as an extra offensive linemen.
Kevin Boss is still on the market, largely because of the serious injury he sustained at the end of 2010. Boss is also a fine blocker, but brings with him Olsen style production and at 6'7" and 255 pounds, and creates mismatches in the secondary.
Boss would be the single best TE option for the Bears to bring in, as he fits the blocking needs in Martz's scheme and is capable of being the relief valve that Cutler lost with the Olsen trade. But there are questions as to whether he will be 100 percent come the start of the season.
But again, this is the least likely of scenarios for Chicago. Martz's opinion of the position makes this a less than desirable landing spot for receiving tight ends.
The Bears re-signing of Desmond Clark was a pleasant surprise to many. After very limited usage last season, it was thought that Clark had played his last down in Chicago.
Clark has been a fan favorite for quite some time in Chicago and has been a jack-of-all-trades of sorts. It was actually surprising that Clark saw so little playing time under Martz. He is an adequate blocker and a good receiver. He was probably the most well-rounded tight end on the roster in 2010.
Age may be catching up to the 34-year-old tight end, and that may have accounted for his diminished role last season.
Kellen Davis is another TE the Bears already had lying around. He is mostly used in red-zone situations, and even then not frequently. Targeted once last season, it is hard to imagine Davis picking up where Olsen left off.
While Clark returning to form and picking up where Olsen left off would be a great story, it's just not likely to happen either.
Honestly, the tight ends that where already on the Bears roster don't look to be the solution.
Last year, the Bears were 29th in the league in completions (276) and dead last in passing attempts (466). That is a truly stunning statistic for an offense run by Mike Martz.
In 10 previous seasons which Martz was either the head coach or offensive coordinator, his teams have averaged finishing fourth in completions and seventh in passing attempts. Eight of those previous 10 season saw his offense finish in the top five in completions and in seven of those previous 10 season his offense finished in the top five in passing attempts.
Of course, having your quarterback running for his life had a lot to do with the decline in attempts and completions. Fifty-six sacks affects how often you throw the ball.
But it is safe to say that the diminished passing attempts were an outlier in Martz's career, and it would be a safe bet to assume that the Bears will see the ball aired out more in 2011.
Which means more opportunities for the other receivers who were around in 2010.
Johnny Knox, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett are all capable receivers, made more capable by the addition of newly acquired WR Roy Williams to the lineup.
Earl Bennett, in particular, seems to be poised to capitalize on the departure of Olsen. Bennett has proven himself a reliable option that will fight for the ball in the air and fight for yards after the catch.
And Martz has been quoted as saying, in regards to Bennett, "We didn't throw it to him enough."
It is entirely possible that the players who will step up and replace Olsen's production are the players who were with the team already.
Martz's system is designed to take advantage of a running back who excels as a receiver.
In Matt Forte, he has arguably the best running back available for his scheme. Forte is a solid rusher whose skills as a blocker and as a receiver make him a perfect fit for Martz and his offense.
In 2010, Forte put up a career-best 547 yards receiving on 51 catches that included three touchdowns. And Forte has room to improve. With Olsen gone, he stands to be the recipient of those relief-valve targets that are left behind.
Last season wasn't so fantastic for backup Chester Taylor, though. Out of necessity, Taylor was miscast as the Bears short-yardage back. This worked out badly for Chicago and for Taylor alike.
Chester is very similar to Forte in skill set. He is a good receiver out of the backfield and a productive one-cut rusher. Used properly, he provides the bears with a perfect spell-back for Matt Forte without a huge drop-off in talent or the need to change the game plan. Defensive coordinators don't see Taylor come in to spell Forte and know the game plan is more limited.
The acquisition of Marion Barber allows for Taylor to return to his intended role, and that is a fantastic thing for the Bears.
Between Forte and Taylor, the Bears will have great check-down targets to replace Olsen.
Part of the reason Cutler has needed Olsen was the lack of a talent in the receiving corps.
Knox, Hester and Bennett are all good receivers and are well placed in this offense. But nobody is mistaking any of them for top level talent.
Enter Roy Williams.
Roy has been a solid disappointment in Dallas and did not live up to the expectations set for him after Jerry Jones traded four draft picks for the former seventh overall draft pick.
Prior to that, Williams was flashing the brilliance that led to Jerry Jones ill-fated trade offer under none other than Mike Martz in Detroit.
Playing in the proper system is sometimes the difference between boom and bust, and it appears that this was the case for Williams.
If he can return to the form he showed in Detroit under Martz with Chicago, Williams will make all the difference in the passing game. By his presence, he will make Knox, Bennett and Hester better. They will see lesser talent in coverage, as Williams will draw the top corners. In addition, they will be playing in better suited positions to showcase their talents instead of being the square receiver peg being crammed into the round No. 1 hole.
And let us not forget that there are still receivers on the market that could help Chicago. While it's not a high priority in Chicago to bring in another free agent receiver, it's also not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears snag one of the remaining free agents, the best of which would be Malcom Floyd and Braylon Edwards.
The 6'5" Floyd would be a fine edition to the Bears roster after playing the high-powered San Diego passing offense for the past six years. While not particularly fast, he has enough speed to get down the field when needed. The only real concern is that he sort of disappeared last season after Vincent Jackson returned from his hold out.
Braylon Edwards, on the other hand, would probably be the best fit left for Chicago. He's 6'3" tall, is reasonably fast, outjumps defenders and fights for the ball.
He's also done well playing the No. 2 receiver. Last season, he caught 53 passes for 904 yards and seven touchdowns as the Jets No. 2 behind Santonio Holmes.
There's not a great chance the Bears sign another receiver after bringing in Roy Williams. Martz likes the receivers he has. But that doesn't mean Martz wouldn't also like another large aggressive target to put into the mix. So while bringing in another receiver isn't highly likely, there is still a chance that the Bears nab another wide-out.
With Williams added alone or another receiver brought in, Olsen's production could be made up for right here.
Greg Olsen was an important part of the Bears offense and its biggest producing receiver as the team's top tight end. But teams move on, and the Bears will, too.
While we, as fans, spend a lot of our time looking for that one player who will make up for that production, the reality is that it will be a team effort.
Some of that production will be replaced by Matt Spaeth and the rest of the tight end group. Some of it will be absorbed by Roy Williams and the wide receivers corps. And still more will be absorbed by Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, especially in the relief valve situations.
No one player is going to replace what Olsen did, not because it cannot be done, but because that's the logical course. Each of these players will see a few more opportunities because Olsen isn't there. And it's up to each to make the most of those opportunities. But it is safe to say that those targets will result in more production.
Who will pick up the bulk of the load? The safest bet would be to expect more three and four receiver sets and fewer two tight end formations, resulting in greater production for the receiving corps in general and Roy Williams specifically.
Matt Forte would be another great option to pick up some of the load. His production was his best yet as a receiver out of the backfield, and he and Chester Taylor combine for 71 receptions and 686 yards with three touchdowns—all from Forte—in 2010.
And there is room for improvement in those numbers. Remember that Marshall Faulk became only the second running back in history to rush and receive for 1,000 each under Martz. Faulk was in a class of his own, but Forte is arguably the best back in the league for Martz's system and is definitely capable of producing numbers above his 51 reception 547-yard receiving effort last year.
While Olsen's production will be missed, the Bears have plenty of options available for replacing that production.
Now it's your turn. Sound off below, ladies and gentlemen. Have a different opinion? We want to hear it. Agree completely? We like hearing that, too. Have something to add? The soapbox known as the comment section is ready and waiting for you.
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