Camp competition: Clutts vs. Ross

In a few weeks, numerous camp battles will take place on the practice fields of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais. We break down the competition for the Bears' starting fullback gig.

In the final preseason game last season, the Chicago Bears squared off against the Cleveland Browns, a team that featured a youngster at fullback, Tyler Clutts.

Clutts was so impressive during the 2011 preseason finale that the Bears snatched him off Cleveland's practice squad less than a week later. Before then, Clutts had jumped between three professional football leagues: the CFL in 2008, the AFL in 2009 and the UFL in 2010.

Signing with the Bears was his first opportunity to play in the NFL on Sundays, one in which he took full advantage. Clutts showed well as a run blocker throughout most of the campaign and was a member of the active roster for all 16 contests. He finished the campaign with eight catches for 48 yards, and no rushing attempts.

FB Tyler Clutts
Warren Little/Getty

Clutts will be challenged in training camp by Draylen Ross, who was converted to fullback after making Chicago's practice squad last season as a tight end. With the club currently flush with tight ends, Chicago's coaching staff is giving Ross a look at fullback, which in turn has applied pressure on Clutts to prove himself worthy of a roster spot in 2012.

Let's break down this upcoming camp competition for Chicago's starting fullback position.

The case for Clutts

Looking back at the film, Clutts made a number of outstanding lead blocks on both run plays and screens last season. He keeps his pad level low and packs a punch when he connects with defenders. He has the strength to matchup with the majority of linebackers in the league, while also the speed and determination to be a downfield blocker as well.

After struggling for three years to break into the NFL, no one can question Clutts' determination, which also carries over onto the field. He's a scrappy player that will do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Yet, while the kid can lay the lumber on occasion, he lacks consistency as a lead blocker and is not much of a pass-catching threat. Throughout this offseason, Clutts has failed to demonstrate reliable hands. This is more serious than most would believe, as a power running game begets play action, where a fullback with good hands can dominate in the flats. He also lacks ideal quickness and is often beat by defenders with good lateral agility.

Still, as a pure, old-school fullback, Clutts fits the bill. He's a squat, powerful player that can create seams as a lead blocker, something that will have a lot of value in Tice's system this year.

The case for Ross

Ross has no experience as a fullback, so it's hard to gauge how effective he can be at the position. He has good size (6-4, 292) yet, until the pads go on, we have no idea how he'll perform as a lead blocker.

Yet one thing is for sure, from what I've seen of Ross the past two seasons, he has good enough hands to be a pass-catching threat out of the backfield. His hands are night-and-day better than Clutts'.

If Ross can use his big frame to lead into holes and consistently create room for his running backs, his ability in the passing game will propel him past Clutts.

The wildcard

TE Kyle Adams
Grant Halverson/Getty

The reason Ross is playing fullback is because Chicago has four quality tight ends: Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth, Kyle Adams and Evan Rodriguez. All four have looked very good this offseason. Unlike former coordinator Mike Martz, tight ends are being used heavily in the passing game under new coordinator Mike Tice and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates.

Additionally, Tice has always used a combination of an edge tight end and an F-back, who serves a hybrid tight end/fullback. Adams and Rodriguez have taken snaps at F-back, with both already having proven capable as blockers.

It's not out of the question that Tice will keep all four tight ends on the 53-man roster and forego the fullback position altogether. In that case, both Clutts and Ross would be looking for work.

Predicting the winner

The dropped passes by Clutts are alarming to say the least. On third downs, the last thing Chicago's offense will need is a wide-open fullback in the flats with rock hands. To keep his job, he'll need to not only improve that part of his game but also be outstanding as a lead blocker. If he doesn't do both in Bourbonnais, Ross could move past him on the depth chart.

Yet neither player is indispensable, which leads me to believe the Bears will go with four tight ends, handing over the lead-blocking duties to Rodriguez and Adams, and no fullbacks this year.

Winner: Neither (four tight ends)

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

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