Chicago Sun-Times

8 days to camp: Olsen expected to break out at tight end for Bears

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Continuing with our position-by-position breakdowns as we close in on being a week away from the first practice of the summer at Olivet Nazarene University, we focus on the tight ends.

Projected starter: Desmond Clark, 6-3, 249, 11th season, Wake Forest OR Greg Olsen, 6-5, 255, 3rd season, Miami

Others

Kellen Davis 6-7, 262, 2nd season, Michigan State
Michael Gaines 6-2, 267, 6th season, Central Florida
Fontel Mines 6-4, 244, 1st season, Virginia

Projected depth chart

Clark or Olsen, Gaines, Davis

2009 salary cap numbers

Desmond Clark $2,173,946
Kellen Davis $432,188
Michael Gaines $1,162,600
Fontel Mines $315,200
Greg Olsen $1,501,450

Number of tight ends on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 3

Projected number of tight ends on 2009 roster at start of the season: 3 or 4

The skinny: Olsen has been Jay Cutler's unofficial sightseeing partner in his introduction to Chicago and he might just become his best friend on the field. The former first-round draft pick was second behind only running back Matt Forte on the team in receptions and led the club with five touchdown catches, scoring three of them in the final four weeks of the year when he had 20 of his 54 catches. That kind of production down the stretch--five grabs a game--is closer to what the Bears have in mind for this season. His 54 catches in 2008 ranked 10th among tight ends in the league and to join the elite at the position he'll need to add 20. He's also going to have to improve on his yards per catch. Of the 10 tight ends with more grabs than Olsen, eight had a greater YPC than his of 10.6. The only players below Olsen were Washington's Chris Cooley (83 catches, 10.2 YPC) and Tennessee's Bo Scaife (58 catches, 9.7 YPC). If you recall, Scaife caught 10 passes vs. the Bears on Nov. 9.

But Olsen is hardly the only part of the show. Clark made 16 starts last season while Olsen had seven, all coming when the offense opened in a double tight end formation. Clark is a superior run blocker and that fact alone may keep him in the starting lineup. He remains a productive outlet receiver but isn't going to stretch the defense and create the kind of matchup problems that Olsen presents vs. linebackers and defensive backs. That is what becomes interesting, how do teams choose to cover Olsen? We broke down playing time at the position earlier in the offseason and even though Clark was the full-time starter it didn't make anything more than a marginal difference. He was on the field 78.16 percent of the time compared to 76.68 for Olsen.

What's unknown is how it will shake out behind Clark and Olsen. Gaines was signed to add a bigger, blocking body to the mix after the Bears found out they missed John Gilmore, who left for Tampa Bay via free agency following the 2007 season. It's not like Gilmore was real active--he played 14 percent of the time that season--but he filled a critical role and Davis certainly didn't step forward to fill that void during his rookie season. Neither Davis nor Gaines is a lock to make the 53-man roster. Davis carries draft status but the Bears have slowly been moving away from protecting all of their picks no matter how unproven they are. He's got a terrific frame but might not be cut out to be a blocker, which was spelled out to him as the quickest way to get on the field last season. Gaines is viewed as a blocker but has some receiving skills too. Lovie Smith mentioned the possibility of moving him around a little bit when he made a sales pitch to the free agent, referencing the opportunity to line up in the backfield in certain instances. We'll see how that actually pans out. If the team keeps only one fullback--which is expected--Gaines would provide some versatility. He could get them through a game at fullback, and that's going to help his chances. Mines has been a practice squad veteran and the converted wide receiver from Virginia has improved each season. His best chance might be getting on tape in preseason and earning a shot in another city as he will face long odds to jump ahead of Gaines and Davis.

The upside: Olsen misses out on the expenses-paid trip to Hawaii but is Pro Bowl-bound just the same with the game being played in Miami the weekend before Super Bowl XLIV. Clark remains a durable performer and steady addition to the run game. At 32, he probably takes as much pride in his ability to remain healthy as anything else. He hasn't missed a game the last four seasons and has been held out of only two in six years with the team. Davis or Gaines steps forward to fill a small role. A highly productive season could provide a boost for tight ends coach Rob Boras, an original member of Smith's staff. He has a background as an offensive line coach and that is a natural progression for many tight ends coaches, including Pat Flaherty, the ex-Bears tight ends coach who has done well for himself as the line coach of the New York Giants.

The downside: Injuries strike. It's considered the most injured position in the league and that's because tight ends have to be physical as participants in run blocking and have to run downfield in the passing game where their body is exposed to faster, hard-hitting defensive backs. Neither Davis nor Gaines manages to fill a niche.

On the hot seat:
Davis? It's tough to put someone on the hot seat here and it's also difficult to say a fifth-round pick is on the hot seat because expectations for players in that round simply aren't overwhelming. He'll have to be better to make the team, though.

Final thought: The Bears probably don't have their No. 1 wide receiver for this season so they might as well take advantage of their next best option. Devin Hester will play a huge role in the passing game but offensive coordinator Ron Turner might as well work to create more matchup opportunities for Olsen.

Previous previews:

Quarterback

Defensive end

Running back

Defensive tackle

Fullback

Linebacker

Offensive line http://blogs.suntimes.com/bears/2009/07/11_days_to_camp_newcomer_pace.html

Cornerbacks

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19 Comments

G-Reg is going to get 75-80 receptions this year! Go BEARS!!!

It makes me nervous because going into camp TE is a team strength. A couple years ago we thought safety was a team strength too. That's what makes me nervous.

For reasons having nothing directly to do with tight end, Davis could be important. He is a poster child for a drafting strategy that the Bears seem to be using quite a bit. Especially in the middle rounds. They seem to have been picking a lot of great athletes that are unfinished coaching projects as football players. Cutting Davis would be a strike against that strategy.

It's not that big a deal. 5th rounders are probably more likely to miss that hit. It is a concern.

"... after the Bears found out they missed John Gilmore ..."

Um, how could a professional -- or even a Pop Warner -- team not know that not having a second tight end who can block will hurt the running game in short yardage situations? This is basic football 101. I don't care how much teams pass in the modern game with the 1970s rules that practically outlaw playing pass defense, the first job of a tight end is to block, which gets me to two other issues.

Kellen Davis showed quite a bit as a receiver last pre-season, much more than I've ever seen from Greg Olsen. At his size, there's no reason he cannot be a good blocker; it's all mental and emotional. That is, he just has to commit to doing it well, whatever that takes. Desmond Clark was not a good blocker when he came into the league, but he committed to doing it and has become a very good tight end. Based on what I saw last pre-season, Kellen Davis has the potential to be HOF if he learns to block well.

Greg Olsen, for all his receiving abilities, is problematic, because he's not a good blocker, which is fundamental to his position. If I'm playing defense v. a tight end like him, I cover him with physical defensive backs, not linebackers. Because of his poor blocking, doing that doesn't expose the defense if the Bears run. What it also does is make it much harder for Olsen to get open, because he's not going to outrun a D back as easily as a linebacker. I only see Olsen having a breakout season if either the Bear receivers are big enough threats that opposing defenses must commit all their DBs to them so they can't cover Olsen, or if Olsen learns to block well.

Finally, I cannot imagine a passing game being successful if the tight end is the dominant receiver. Regardless of what the Bears get out of this position, the receiver aspect of it merely compliments the passing game. If the receivers don't play well and have good seasons, the Bears will not have a good passing game no matter how well the tight ends play.

I think da Bears will keep 4 TE's. Here's why.
Giving the strenght of this teams offense, which is the TE spot. The RB position looks good aswell, however G.O.and Des C. are one of the better TE tandoms in da league. Olson is the best receiver of this group, he also has the best speed and feet. I beleive the Bears will play alot off three TE sets. With Olson playing in the slot and spread out wide.(Oppisit D Hester)Could be dangerous in the red zone. Its safe to say you can put a TE/WR on Olson he has that ability. That being said, a 3rd TE comes into play. I would like it to be K.Davis. He give you some size and speed ratio out there. Davis is a better pass catcher than giving credit.He's also 6'7 260 that size can cause problems. The 3rd TE could be Gaines, that should be a good battle between him and Davis. The 4th TE will be more like an H/B and the 2nd FB. I think Gaines fits this bill. You know what you gone get with Des C. A three TE set with the ability to get deep off of play action with D.Hester and Olsen.

predictions:
G.Olsen 82rec,10td,1000yrds
D.Hester 80rec,8,1150
M.Forte 50rec,4td,450yrds
D.Clark 42rec,4td,475
No.2 WR 40rec,4td,500yrds(B.Rideau sleeper)
Slot 3rd WR 30rec,1td(12fd)250yrd(J.Knox sleeper)

Even if only to satisfy my curiosity, with the TEs that the Bears have, I would love to see 3- and even 4-TE sets in short- and non-short-yardage situations.

Sure you'd like to have TEs that can block and catch with the best of them, but it still makes sense to put the talent that you do have on the field. Maybe he's not a great blocker, but Kellen Davis has a size advantage over every DB and LB in the league, plus good hands. You've got to find a way to put that talent on the field.

Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark will have a lot of balls thrown their way this year because our WR corps is so unproven. They will have good years and the TEs will be a major strength and big contributors for the Bears.

Does anybody know if there another parallel universe that has a Wrigley Field and a Bears team? I only ask because that dude isn't watching the same football games I'm seeing on this planet.

A great receiving TE is what puts good teams over the top to being great teams. Wrigley hit on this a little. If TE is your number one option in the passing game (like it was last year) you're screwed. However, if your offense has a legit running and passing game, it's that tight end finding holes in coverage and getting YAC that that makes teams a formidable threat.

So here it lies. If Olsen has 700 yards at the end of the season and is the team's leading receiver you can bet we're missing the playoffs. If he has 700 and is second or third in receptions we're on our way to Miami!

The Bears will be fine in the scheme of things if all parts compliment each other it can be very successful, they will force the defense to be honest and any one on one with Olsen, Forte or Hester is advantage Bears. Again my concern is the over-rated Garza still being favored every good offensive line has a mauler type a intimidator we don't have that that gives a line attitude, there is no signature go to play for short yardage or in crunch time when you need that 1-2 yds. we need to develop one or two of those that make the opposing team look for it but not be able to stop it.

The Football in site of Wrigly Field Bear amazing. He can tell that a thrid team TE is a HOF type player because of his middle of the rode play in a preseason game. How about just try and make the team. And if he were playing D V Olson he would have 20 catches a game and would be on his way to Canton. How can some one care some much about the Bears and Know/See so little . I bet he liked Ortons Check downs.

After thinking on it....I have to agree that we can not have our TE being the leading receiver, or we are screwed. I remember Kellen Winslow and that great Air Offense - and I was thinking Olsen could lead in Yds, but Winslow had some awsome WR keeping the backs off his back. Olsen can be a Pro Bowl TE, but lets hope Hester leads in yards people, thats why he is a WR and not a return man. We need those bombs to Hester to work or Forte/Olsen etc.. will not have alot of daylight.

http://www.profootballhof.com/history/release.aspx?release_id=1738

Nice on Winslow....wow I did not realize the man had over 1,000 yds.....it's been awhile since I saw that Air Coryell team but - they were great.
and awsome WR as well

http://www.databasefootball.com/teams/teamyear.htm?tm=SDG&lg=nfl&yr=1980

WR Joiner - 1,132 yds
wr Jefferson - 1,340 yds
TE Winslow - 1,290 yds
Just some fun facts - not saying Da Bedars willaccomplish nearly as much, but - it `maybe, shows that the TE needs his WR to play as well or better.

Playing Clark for blocking or Olsen for pass-catching is a tough call, especially since Forte is such a threat to break one with a little hole opened by a good block. You also cannot give away which play was called by who is in the game. On the other hand, a two tight end set hurts the hole-opening potential unless the defense bites on misdirection. Seeing how the play-calling goes should be extremely interesting this year on offense.

"Kellen Davis showed quite a bit as a reciever last pre-season, much more than I've ever seen from Greg Olson" WWWWOOOOOOOOOOOWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!! "put the pipe down and back off the weed Wrigley Field Bear!!!!!!

I am higher on Olsen than any other Bear this year. I think he'll be north of 80 catches 1000 yards and 9 TDs for a few reasons:

1. Cutler loves TEs. He made Scheffler look like a beast in Denver and Scheffler isn't anything special.

2. It's Olsen's third year, traditionally the breakout year for receivers. It's no secret that Olsen is more of a WR than a TE. He's aided by an improved offensive line, a RB ready for a solid sophomore season, and a pro bowl QB. The stars are aligned.

3. It seems like every time I read Olsen's name this offseason, it's something about him hanging out with Cutler all the time. I don't think you can underestimate that chemistry.

Some of you may think Im drinking the Bears kool-aid. The reason I say G.Olson will lead the team in receptions. Is I beleave Olson will be on the field more than any other player not named Jay C.,M. Forte, and D.Hester. Cutler's not your check down QB.So M.Forte will not lead da team in catches this year.Giving the lack of a true no.1 WR.Hester will see alot of double teams. Thats why I dont think Hester will lead the Bears in catches.So if not Hester and its not Forte than who? This brings you to Olson.The mis-match, to big for DB's. He's to fast for LB's. The bears do a good job of moving him around. You can line him up anywhere. One play he at TE,the next play he might be in the slot. Then spread out wide or in the backfield at FB.Thats a problem for defenses,they have to locate Olsen out of the huddle. This is why I say Olsen will lead the Bears in receptions. 82rec,10td,1000yrds. The Cheifs had great offenses in the early 2000's. Lead by Tony Gon.. Go Bears!!!

I think the Bears should keep all 4 TEs (Mines is a training camp experiment, and nothing more), and let McKie go. Gaines can play in the backfield, and will be more of a hammer than any FB we have on the roster. If I remember correctly, McKie was only on the field for 30% of the plays anyway, so that doesn't need a roster spot when a TE can fill the role more effectively. That will give us a ton more flexibility on offense in heavy formations, and will also allow us to have 4 TEs on the field in short yardage situations, which is a lot harder for the defense to account for. And we also would have some chances to run the heavy I like Green Bay, with Clark and Gaines in the backfield in front of Forte. We could go either way, and leave the backside back to seal the crashing DE from the back, giving Forte a few extra seconds to get to the hole and get upfield.

Olsen should be a 60-70 catch player at minimum with Cutler at the helm. I am thinking 7-8 TDs, and 650-750 yards. Unless he needs a breather, I think there should not be a passing situation where he is not on the field. I even think he should be the 5th WR in a 5-wide package. He is by far our best weapon in the passing game, and needs to be the focus of the attack.

note:
I did not say receptions I said yards, (I think :) it's Friday and I'm not double checking what I said.... but Hester should lead in yards as he makes the downfield catches and Olsen makes the short catches (even with yac) I feel Hester will and should lead in yards.
But yes, in watching the Denver games - Cutler will show who Olsen can and should be, Olsen will need to learn how to block, but still thats not what he does, Davis and Clark can do that, Olsen is a TD, reception guy. I feel Olsen will be a much better receiver than Davis but there's no sense in not having them both on the field at the same time. Wasn't Olsen a first rd pick? for a reason as the man can catch the football and now we have a probowl QB, woah, thats a lethal combo! In my opinion Clark should be gone next year and Davis will take his role

whoohoo 7 days to camp!

You can do two things...

(1) dump McKie and go with the 4-TE's.....

It's not like the FB has been playing alot the last few years anyway. The FB is slowly being phased out of the game. Gaines and Clark make solid "H" back options and Olsen motioned into the backfield a bit as well....

(2) Keep 3-TE's, 1-FB and move kellen from TE to WR....

It can't hurt because as we all know, most of the Bears WR's are unproven anyway. Davis has freakesh size, great hands and sub 4.5 speed which is an assest considering his measurables.... 6'7", 260 pounds. He would make a fine option as say the 6'th WR. He would be a Matt Jones on steroids !! He could learn the position this year, still play ST's and be a backup should injuries occur to the other TE's.

Another fix though VERY unlikely is to trade Clark to a TE needing team for a veteran WR.... Olsen would then be THE guy, Clark is aging anyway and will be a FA after 2010. Gaines could easily fill his role and probably be a better blocker. I know it would be unpopular but it would solve a numbers issue at TE and secure much needed depth/experience at our weakest Offensive position.

Go Bears !!

I wonder how Joyner would rank the tightends? Would an almost(near) catch rank the same as an almost (near) interception and how many points does a near block get?

I can't wait to read Joyner's latest analysis.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on July 23, 2009 5:03 AM.

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