Bears 2011 Year in Review: Tight End

We take an in-depth look at how Chicago's tight ends performed last season and discuss what changes, if any, need to be made at the position going forward into 2012 and beyond.

THE PLAYERS

Kellen Davis (18 REC, 35 TAR, 206 YDS, 5 TD)
With Mike Martz as the coordinator, and Greg Olsen being traded before the season, no one expected too much from Chicago's tight ends beyond a heavy dose of blocking. Martz did just that, using Davis as a blocker almost exclusively. He was on the field for 751 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), yet he caught just 18 passes. Of those 18 catches, 13 went for first downs and five went for touchdowns – the most of any pass catcher on the team. Yet every week, Davis was left out of the game plan. Coach Lovie Smith received some criticism for his remarks regarding Davis in his season-ending press conference.

"Kellen Davis can do anything the good tight ends in this league can do," said Smith. "As a catcher if we focus in on him, we can make him more of a guy that people are talking about just based on throwing him the ball more. So I think we have an excellent tight end with good speed, size. I think we had a combination of as good a tight end, the makings of, as anyone around in Kellen."


TE Kellen Davis
Scott Boehm/Getty

It's highly debatable whether Davis will ever be an elite pass-catching tight end. What's not debatable? That every single TE in the league would like to have Davis' production per catch. Who knows what he could accomplish if he received the same number of looks as Jimmy Graham (149 targets), Jermichael Finley (93), Rob Gronkowski (124) and the rest of the NFL's top tight ends.

As a blocker though, Davis truly struggled. He too often tried to "catch" the defender with his arms, instead of exploding into the player. On countless occasions, his failed blocks in the run game led to stuffs, while his inability to pass block on opposing defensive ends resulted in numerous pressures and sacks. If Davis is going to take that next step, he must improve as a blocker.

Matt Spaeth (7 REC, 11 TAR, 50 YDS, 2 TD)
Spaeth was signed in the offseason to be a blocking tight end. He did just that, performing very well up front as both a run and pass blocker. He only played roughly half the snap of Davis, yet PFF graded him higher than Davis in every aspect but pass blocking. He's not much of a threat through the air but Spaeth has a lot of value to Chicago's offense.

OVERALL To blame the lack of production from this group would be ridiculous. Martz never allowed either tight end to blossom into his respective role as pass catchers. Instead, they were stuck on the line. Davis did improve his blocking as the year wore on but overall the team wasted his talents.

GRADE: C+

GOING FORWARD

Davis is an unrestricted free agent this year. The big question is whether or not the team will bring back a player that, in his four seasons with the Bears, has produced very little.

Yet, if Smith is serious in his evaluation of Davis, then the team needs to stick to its guns, re-sign him and give him more looks in the pass game. He's not a great blocker, so asking him to stay on the line all game is a waste. Let him work the seams and use his huge frame to shield shorter linebackers and safeties. If he fails to be the player many believe he can be, then look for his replacement after the upcoming season. Yet he deserves at least one season where he's given a legitimate shot to be a big-time producer.

Spaeth is signed through 2013 and will likely serve as the team's blocking tight end for the next two years. Kyle Adams and Andre Smith were nothing but bodies to fill the roster.

If the Bears choose to go a different route than Davis, there are some decent options in free agency. Fred Davis and Joel Dreesen are both quality receivers. Dreesen likely won't be re-signed by Houston due to the presence of Owen Daniels on the Texans' roster. As such, the Bears could land him on the cheap. PFF ranked Dreesen as the sixth most-effective tight end in the league last year.

The ultimate prize would Green Bay's Jermichael Finley. Bears fans are well aware of Finley's talents, as he scored four touchdowns this year against Chicago's defense. He has great size (6-5, 247) and is arguably the most-athletic tight end in the game. With the Packers already heavily invested in other areas of the passing game, and in need of major upgrades on defense, they might not be able to re-sign Finley at the price tag he'll likely demand. If the Bears want to pull off a major coup, the front office should push hard at signing Finley. He's a wide receiver in a tight end's body and would help take Chicago's passing attack to the next level.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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