Chicago Sun-Times

Analyzing the playing time at tight end and fullback; Clark, Olsen even

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On Tuesday, we took a close look at how the playing time was divided on the defensive line last season in order to get an idea where rookies Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton might fit in this season.

Today, we're going to examine a personnel change made in 2008 on offense and how it could impact the roster and more this coming season. Specifically, how did the playing time shake out at tight end and fullback over the past two seasons?

As part of Four Down Territory last month, a reader asked if Greg Olsen could potentially supplant veteran Desmond Clark as the starter this season even though Clark is considered a more well-rounded player as a blocker. Clark started 16 games last season and Olsen made seven starts as the club leaned heavily on double tight end formations. More on that in a little bit.

"Who starts doesn't really matter,'' coach Lovie Smith said. "Both guys played last year. Last year, we considered Greg a starter. It's like you have a third receiver who is a starter. I feel like we had 13 starters on the offense. Defense, the nickel is like a starter. Greg is one of the guys.''

Smith is on the money. We've reviewed statistics from last season and although Clark started nine more games, their playing time was nearly identical. Let's look at how close it actually was:

Desmond Clark 791 of 1,012 offensive snaps, 78.16 percent

Greg Olsen 776 of 1,012 offensive snaps, 76.68 percent

The difference of 15 snaps is one long drive, or less than one play per game. Yes, the Bears had a 15-play drive in 2008, actually a 17-play drive. It led to a field goal in Week 2 at Carolina.

What's most interesting about these numbers, at least to us, is the number of plays Clark and Olsen were on the field together--555. That means the Bears operated with (at least) two tight ends 54.8 percent of the time. Hey, when you're not getting any production from your wide receivers, you've got to do something.

But there is more. Rookie tight end Kellen Davis was on the field for just 40 snaps or 3.95 percent of the time. He was active for all 16 games.

Let's look at how the position broke down in 2007:

Desmond Clark 818 of 1,062 offensive snaps, 77.02 percent

Greg Olsen 403 of 1,062 offensive snaps, 37.95 percent

John Gilmore 149 of 1,062 offensive snaps, 14.03 percent

So the Bears went from using the blocking, third tight end 149 times to 40 times after the departure of the veteran Gilmore to Tampa Bay via free agency. The Bears didn't offer Gilmore more than minimum annual salaries because they didn't feel they could justify it given his play time. They miss him now. Olsen was brought along slowly as a rookie but keep in mind a knee sprain more or less wiped out the first four games of the season for him. Clark played at about the same rate even with the presence of some well-used wide receivers in Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad in 2007.

The direct result of more two tight end formations in 2008 was less time for the fullback. Here is how that position broke down in 2008:

Jason McKie 278 of offensive snaps, 27.47 percent

Jason Davis 75 of 947 offensive snaps*, 7.92 percent

* Davis was not on the roster for four weeks in the middle of the season. He was on the Oakland Raiders roster for three weeks.

So that's a total of 353 snaps with a fullback or 34.88 percent of the plays.

That represents a drop from 2007 when McKie had 437 offensive snaps which amounted to 41.15 percent of the plays.

Given the reduced role of the fullback, it could mean the Bears look to keep only one on the 53-man roster this season. Keep that in the back of your mind. It will be interesting to see how the offense evolves with quarterback Jay Cutler. Will there be a continued emphasis on the tight ends with both of them on the field at the same time, or will offensive coordinator Ron Turner work to involve the wide receivers more? Stay tuned.

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This kind of work is the reason why this is the place to come in the offseason. Just want to say thanks.

Brad, with a guy like Jay and his abilities you'd be an idiot not to alter your plans offensively and allow for more involvement from the W.R. position (what a concept, especially in Chi town.)

Furthermore, as this team adjusts to Jay's presents it will surely make the Bears offense considerably better, running or passing,(and I didn't even mention the revamped O-line!) Personally, I would say there should be more concern given to holding on to the rock (Davis, Clark and co.) than whether or not improvement will occur. Besides, the T.E.'s have always been there and if Orton or Grossman had been more precise in their accuracy they would have continued to progress like the offence had in the first part of the season.

I think that Inglesias and Knox are better than advertised. While it's understood that these guys are rookies both have better than average hands and Knox has crazy speed and runs routes accurately. Having an arm like Cutler's with the ability to place the ball in such a minimal space will allow them to flourish in this offence sooner than later which will build their confidence and allow other players to exploit there opportunities (Hester especially) which makes everyone that much better. Can you even remember a time when you could say that about a Bears offence?

In closing, I'm sure there are those that think I'm drinkin' the Kool-aid but the Bears may actually have a lethal offense in the making and only training camp and the pre-season will tell us if they were right.


Olsen deserves to start and is a durn good pass catching machine, last year he started to come on and this year we can expect Gonzalez numbers, with Cutler throwing to him, and Forte/Hester taking the heat off. I am very excited about Olsen with Cutler throwing on the run. Greg was worth a first and I feel he will really outshine the WR this year as Cutler will see him as a dump off target as well as primary.

Someone may have left the rubber cement jar open, but I'm wondering if the idea of 7th rounder Lance Louis being tried at fullback has been bandied about? Lovie and Ron Turner always say the Fullback and tight end positions are interchangeable, that's why they keep only 1 fullback on the roster. And the idea of a 6'3", 300+lb fullback brings back glory day memories. Especially at the goal line. Go Bears!

"Olsen deserves to start ..."

No, he doesn't. A tight end who can't block is only a situation player.

By randy on May 6, 2009 7:04 PM
"Olsen deserves to start and is a durn good pass catching machine, last year he started to come on and this year we can expect Gonzalez numbers, with Cutler throwing to him, and Forte/Hester taking the heat off."

What are Gonzalez type numbers? Also I am not so sure it is fare to compare the two, after all Gonzalez put up his very impressive numbers with Elvis Grbac, Rich Gannon way before he got good in Oakland, Trent Green, Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle, and Tyler Thigpen as his QB's.

Olsen is a nice reciever but I have seen him get shut down by DB's, his mismatch comes against LB's. I would say Olsen is a lot more like Tony Sheffler. Interesting enough Sheffler and Graham are mirror images of Clark and Olsen and were used in the exact same way as Clark and Olsen. Cutler will probably have to go to them more often than not given the status of the teams recieving corps and Cutler will probably see a lot more two TE formations in Chicago.

Forte may see less time this year in an attempt too keep him healthy, Hester stands to benifit the most but his hands are questionable at best. The other recieving positions are up for grabs as too who will or will not emerge. Nice hands and crisp routs mean little if you struggle against the jam. The Bears need a very physical reciever more than just about anything on offense. It's nice to have a good recieving TE in a WCO but it doesn't work very well if your recievers are all sub par.

Great column. Very informative.

Alright Ill go with the blocking except Olsen has very good hands and was drafted as a pass catching TE so don't hold that against him and with Cutler as a passer - that only enhances Olsen position. It would be nice to pick up a vet WR but we have not yet, and Hester will stretch the field whether you believe in his hands or not the D will still place their fastes DB (or 2) to cover his deep threat and that along with Forte will open Olsen up big time, AND (theres more) You saw yourself the start stats for Olsen so he does deserve to start as he is quickly passing Clark and he will only get more starts this year, as I believe Lovie said he considered Olsen the starter above.
So...look for alot more from Olsen pass catching.

Neckbeard Brigade that's a great idea! The idea of 7th rounder Lance Louis being tried at fullback gives me chills. Well let's think about it for a second, Lance Louis played TE/OL in college. So he must have some agility if he played TE and some power if he played OL. One knock to this idea would be that the Bears require their FB to catch the ball, so this idea would only work if Louis could catch on a consistent basis. Just imagine it, a 6'3" 300+lb fullback, especially in goal line situations, would be awesome! GO Bears

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on May 6, 2009 2:22 PM.

Four Down Territory, May 6: The wait to possibly try Graham at safety was the previous entry in this blog.

Bears showing interest in veteran TE Michael Gaines is the next entry in this blog.

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