The Chicago Bears have the luxury of four quality tight ends. Unfortunately, the team has historically kept just three on the 53-man roster.
Under coordinator Mike Tice, the team has a pair of traditional edge tight ends in Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth, as well as a couple of F-backs in Kyle Adams and Evan Rodriguez. Throughout the offseason and preseason, all four have shown they deserve a spot on the team in 2012.
While it's traditional to keep just three tight ends, this might be the year the club decides to keep all four, for a number of reasons.
First off, the two different types of tight ends on this team splits up the positions into two different categories. The tight ends block on the edge and are used as downfield threats in the passing game. The F-backs serve more of a hybrid role, typically lining up in the backfield, with dual duties as a lead blocker and an underneath pass catcher.
Tice employed the F-back while head coach of the Minnesota Vikings from 2002-2005. It's a staple of his offense and one of the main reasons the team selected Rodriguez in the fourth round of this year's draft.
TE Evan Rodriguez
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
"It's very similar," Rodriguez told Bear Report. "They've got me lead blocking and pulling, moving guys. They've put me in different situations."
Rodriguez played with backups in training camp and during the first two preseason games, yet in the third contest he took the majority of his snaps with the. Before that, Adams had been taking the F-back snaps with the first team.
"Some of the stuff I did in college," Adams told Bear Report. "Some of the blocking-type things and a lot of the routes I did in college. Some of the more fullback-type stuff I started doing last year."
Both players have been inconsistent as lead blockers but have flashed potential as a hybrid fullback/tight end. They are quality pass catchers as well, with Rodriguez showing very soft hands all preseason.
"Evan's done a great job. He's a really good football player," said Adams. "Whenever he does well it makes me better. It makes me compete. If he's doing something well, I know I have to step my game up. Having competition like that only makes you better."
The battle between these two has done them well, as each has continually raised his game during the preseason. For that reason, it's very possible both could be kept, replacing fullback Tyler Clutts, who has seen only a handful of first-team reps in the preseason.
For his part, Clutts believes he's the best option to be Matt Forte's lead blocker.
"I do. But they've been doing a job. I can't say that they've done a bad job," Clutts said. "For me, it's just something I feel I'm a little bit more comfortable with. They haven't been doing it much. This is kind of new to them. They've done a good job adjusting to it but I'm always going to feel that I'm an efficient blocker from the backfield."
While he lacks the versatility of Adams and Rodriguez, Clutts can really lay the lumber when he connects as a lead blocker.
"Coming into camp, I knew as a fullback I was going to have to distinguish myself as a physical blocker; someone that can pound out the tough yards, help Matt (Forte) pound out the tough yards," said Clutts. "For me, I think short yardage and some first-down runs are really what I feel like I can (do to) separate myself from other blocking tight ends blocking in the backfield."
He has a great point, as neither Adams nor Rodriguez have been than great in short-yardage situations. Even a part-time role as a goal-line lead blocker – an area in which Chicago's offense has struggled the last few years – might be enough to keep Clutts on the roster. If that were the case, Adams would be cut, as the team isn't going to choose a former UDFA over its fourth-round draft pick.
Yet there is one wildcard in the scenario. Davis is the starting edge tight end and was signed to a two-year deal this offseason. He will be an integral part of this offense as a downfield threat and, barring injury, will put up the best numbers of his career.
TE Matt Spaeth
Spaeth, on the other hand, is more of an edge blocker and has never caught more than 17 passes in a single season during his career. Yet since signing with the team last offseason, he's been highly erratic as a blocker. It was his missed block in Week 13 last year that led to Forte's knee injury.
Spaeth is due $2 million this season, a hefty sum for a one-dimensional backup at a deep position on the team. Remember, Spaeth was brought over to fit in former coordinator Mike Martz's offense, not Tice's. If Tice feels his F-backs are both too valuable to cut, yet he also wants to keep Clutts for short-yardage plays, he might consider giving Spaeth the axe. His relatively high salary could then be used to sign a player that might provide depth at safety, linebacker or offensive line.
That said, my guess is that Adams will be the player cut, as Clutts will have value not only near the goal line but also in power sets when the Bears need to run down clock at the end of the game. Spaeth is a savvy veteran who has value in the run game and as a red-zone target.
Despite the uncertainty, Adams said he's not sweating it.
"Both years I've just tried to trust that God has a plan for my life. Take care of what I can control and not worry about the rest," said Adams. "You can get all stressed out and worry about it or you can just have fun and do your best. That's what I'm trying to do."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of 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.