Time to start worrying about E-Rod

The Bears signed tight end Brody Eldridge today, which likely means the club isn't confident that Evan Rodriguez will be returning from his knee injury any time soon.

Chicago Bears rookies have had a rough go of it so far this season. Seventh rounder Greg McCoy didn't make the team; sixth rounder Isaiah Frey is on the practice squad; fourth rounder Evan Rodriguez is recovering from a knee injury; third rounder Brandon Hardin is on injured reserve; and second rounder Alshon Jeffery is out for a month with a broken hand.

Only first rounder Shea McClellin has been able to stay healthy and productive in 2012.

The Bears today released RB Kahlil Bell and signed TE Brody Eldridge. With Jeffery out, most assumed the club would bring in another wide receiver. Yet GM Phil Emery said last week that he's happy with the team's current crop of wideouts.

"If there's a player out there we feel is going to make our mix better, would we approach them? Yes. But it just depends on the player. It depends on the situation. It depends on what our needs are," said Emery. "But we feel very good about our wide receiver depth."

FB Evan Rodriguez
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire

Jeffery was originally slated to miss four-to-six weeks. The club obviously feels comfortable with Dane Sanzenbacher filling that roster spot until Jeffery returns.

The same can't be said for Rodriguez and the team's tight end position. In OC Mike Tice's offense, the club uses four tight ends each week, two as your standard edge tight ends and two as "move" tight ends, or what Tice refers to as F-backs.

This season, Rodriguez has filled the F-back role, which is a hybrid fullback/tight end position. In that role, he has performed very well as a lead blocker and was a key component to Chicago's rushing attack.

Since hurting his knee in Week 3 against the St. Louis Rams, the Bears have used a combination of Matt Spaeth and Kyle Adams at F-back. That was the stopgap plan, and it has worked well so far. Last week, Chicago rushed for 214 yards as a team. Yet it would do the offense good to have E-Rod back, as his versatility as both a blocker and pass catcher are unmatched on the roster.

Unfortunately for the Bears, the signing of Eldridge means it's unlikely E-Rod will be returning any time soon. Coach Lovie Smith was confident heading into the bye that Rodriguez would return this week against the Detroit Lions. Yet if that were the case, why would the team bring in another tight end, one who is known for his blocking prowess, giving them five TEs on the roster? In the NFL, no team needs five tight ends – and most don't need more than three – unless somebody is hurt. If Rodriguez were healthy, there would have been no reason to sign Eldrige. So despite Smith's confidence in E-Rod's return, this move says otherwise.

The 6-5, 265-pound Eldridge has started 16 of 27 contests over two seasons (2010-11) with the Colts, recording 14 receptions for 84 yards (6.0 ypr) after being selected by Indianapolis in the fifth round (162nd overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma.

He's known more for his blocking ability than his prowess as a pass catcher, meaning he'll likely be phased into the F-back for as long as Rodriguez is out – which at this point appears like it will be a while.

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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.

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