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.