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We'll get in one more positional breakdown before we switch gears from this analysis for a few days and get into some other material we hope you find interesting, including Four Down Territory on Friday. Up this morning are the fullbacks.

Projected starter: Jason McKie, 5-11, 247, 8th year, Temple

Others

Jason Davis, 5-10, 242, 2nd year, Illinois
Will Ta'ufo'ou, 5-11, 247, Rookie, Cal

Projected depth chart

McKie

2009 salary cap numbers

Jason Davis $390,200
Jason McKie $995,000
Will Ta'ufo'ou $311,666

Number of fullbacks on 2008 roster at start of the season: 1

Projected number of fullbacks on 2009 roster at start of the season: 1

The skinny: The Bears got a pretty good look at another player in Davis when a quad muscle injury knocked McKie out after 11 games. McKie has been a pretty durable performer appearing in 15 or more games in three of the last five seasons. A torn pectoral muscle kept him out for half of the year in 2005. He's a dependable player who has become a bit of a threat in the red zone, rushing for two touchdowns last season and catching another pass for a score to give him seven touchdowns over the last three seasons. Davis proved to be a nice find when he joined the practice squad at the start of the season and the Bears were lucky to get him back after the brief mid-season stint he had in Oakland. He's got the talent to play in the league but is in a numbers crunch after tight end Michael Gaines was signed. The Bears talked with Gaines about using him as an H-back on occasion and lining him up in the backfield and that kind of versatility could put the squeeze on Davis and lead the Bears to keep just one fullback on the 53-man roster as they did at the start of last season. Gaines could get them through a game in an emergency if something happened to McKie. Of course, second year tight end Kellen Davis also figures into the equation. If the Bears only keep three tight ends, it increases the chance that an extra running back or fullback make the roster. Kellen Davis has draft status, though, and Jason Davis does not. Given the addition of Jay Cutler at quarterback and the trend last season with offensive coordinator Ron Turner and the fullback position, we're also inclined to believe that only one fullback will make the roster. The Bears relied less on the fullback in 2008, with playing time dropping to 34.88 percent of the plays down from 41.15 percent in 2007. The drop was due in large part to the expansion of double tight end formations. Ta'ufo'ou was an interesting guy going into the draft but his stock dipped and he would up being signed as an undrafted free agent. He might not be the listed height of 5-11 and faces a real uphill battle to crack the roster.

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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:

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Things have slowed down a little with the conclusion of rookie minicamp but the mail is still being delivered. We'll make it Five Down Territory for today after a long weekend. Let's get right to it.

Q: So I'm starting to come down from draft overload and I looked up a few things on this fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou the Bears signed. People seem to be pretty high on him. Does this kid have a shot to unseat Jason McKie?

James T., Charleston, Ill.

A: You might be aiming a little high to begin with. Let's focus on Ta'ufo'ou's chances to make the 53-man roster, first. He's an interesting guy who got a decent amount of publicity before the draft as the blocking back at Cal the last two seasons for Jahvid Best and Justin Forsett. Only two fullbacks ended up being drafted according to NFL.com and that left Ta'ufo'ou looking for an opportunity. A league source said he turned down more lucrative free-agent offers elsewhere because of the possible opportunity the Bears offered. The Bears remain happy with the veteran McKie, who started eight games last season but missed the final five with a bad quad pull. He's been banged up a little bit the past two seasons but there are not plans in the works to replace him as far as we know. Don't forget Jason Davis is on the roster also. He started three games while McKie was sidelined and played for offensive coordinator Ron Turner at Illinois, so he's familiar with the offense. To make the roster, Ta'ufo'ou is at least going to have to leap frog Davis. We say "at least'' because there is no guarantee the Bears will keep two fullbacks on the roster. They've gone with one at times, and they have done so recently because they lean heavily on double tight-end formations, which provide them with some able blockers. One thing Ta'ufo'ou has working against him is his size. He was listed at 5-11, 253 pounds in school, and after watching him in minicamp over the weekend, he might not be that big. Not according to this eye test, any way. So that is going to be an issue. Ta'ufo'ou was productive in college, he's considered a good leader and strong worker, so we'll see what happens. It's a position with a lot of injuries and anything can happen. At this point, we don't see McKie being beat out but there is a long way to go.


Need No. 11--Fullback

Players on roster

FB Jason McKie (signed through 2011)
FB Jason Davis (2009)

Need

The Bears went to more double tight-end sets in 2008 with Desmond Clark and Greg Olson and the result was less playing time for Jason McKie, who missed five games with a quad injury. The expectation with the arrival of quarterback Jay Cutler is that the Bears will continue as is or perhaps use the position even less. It seems fullbacks are less involved every year when you look across the landscape of the league. McKie was a dependable outlet in short-yardage and goalline situations until his usage became predictable. The Bears consider McKie to be an above-average fullback and he has some value for them on special teams.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Jason McKie category.

Jason Davis is the previous category.

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