Countdown to Camp: Finding a role for the TEs will be a challenge

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This is Part 4 of the 10-part position analysis leading up to the start of the Bears’ 2010 training camp in Bourbonnais.

One of the enigmas entering the 2010 season, as it has been since the Bears hired offensive coordinator Mike Martz, is how Greg Olsen will fit into Martz’s offensive scheme.

Martz’s offense has a proven success rate, especially in the first year of implementation. But while we can expect to see a hike in numbers for quarterback Jay Cutler and receivers Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, and Devin Aromashodu, nobody really knows what to expect from Olsen. This, of course, is because Martz’s offense does not and never has featured the tight end in the passing game.

Tight ends in Martz’s offense have to be able to “put their hand in the dirt” and block first, words that Martz himself declared in an interview upon his arrival in Chicago. Olsen, however, has never shown himself to be a complete player while struggling to block due to his thin frame. He does have great hands and is one of the top receiving threats on the team.

Complicating matters further is that the Bears’ first signing of this year’s free agency period was tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, formerly of the San Diego Chargers who also played for Martz in St. Louis. Manumaleuna, who agreed to terms within hours of the start of free agency, is the prototypical tight end to play in Martz’s system. He’s 295 pounds and is primarily a blocker. When he’s on the field, it’s like having an extra tackle, only this one is more athletic.

When Manumaleuna was signed, rumors of the Bears shopping Olsen were rampant. The market for Olsen was small, and the Bears — if the rumors were even true — realized that keeping Olsen had more value than what they could have gotten in return for him.

Behind Olsen and Manumaleuna, Desmond Clark and Kellen Davis are vying for not only playing time, but possibly a roster spot. The Bears elected to keep four tight ends last year until releasing Michael Gaines after the team acquired Gaines Adams in a trade with the Buccaneers and needed an extra roster spot. The possibility of keeping all four this year remains, but with six wide receivers plus a third quarterback, the Bears may not afford to do so. Then again, the Bears may elect to go without a traditional fullback and simply move Manumaleuna into that role when a fullback is required. That scenario would allow them to keep all four tight ends.

Clark is arguably the most well-rounded of the group given his ability to both catch passes and block, but he just turned 33 in April and has spent 11 years in the league. The unfortunate dilemma for him and the Bears is that the number of plays or situations in which he would be the ideal tight end on the field are few and far between. Manumaleuna and Olsen would appear to be getting the majority of the snaps on game days and Davis could be used for the red zone because of his huge frame and soft hands. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for Clark.

Whatever the Bears decide to do in terms of how many tight ends they elect to keep, this should be one of the most consistent positions on the team and one of the strengths of the offense.

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