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
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.