Bears Training Camp Preview: 9 Days

How will Chicago's coaching staff replace the versatile production of Evan Rodriguez, who was expected to serve in a number of different roles in Marc Trestman's offense this season?

The Chicago Bears understood the risk of drafting Evan Rodriguez in the fourth round last year. He had multiple off-the-field incidents during his collegiate career – including one in which he was accused of assaulting a female resident advisor, an incident that resulted in his transfer from West Virginia to Temple – yet his talent as a multi-dimensional offensive player was enough for GM Phil Emery to put those concerns aside.

It took Rodriguez roughly 13 months to turn around and bite Emery in the backside. This offseason, E-Rod was arrested twice, once for drunken disorderly conduct at a traffic stop in Florida and, two months later, for a DUI in the Chicago suburbs. In the second arrest, his blood alcohol level was reportedly more than twice the legal limit.

Emery had seen enough at that point and he cut the troubled player a week later. It was a considerable blow to Marc Trestman's new offense, as Rodriguez possesses a unique skill set, one that could have allowed him to play numerous roles, including tight end, fullback, H-back and wide receiver. Coming out of the backfield, his ability as a pass catcher could have exploited a lot of mismatches with opposing linebackers and safeties.


Tony Fiammetta
Ronald Martinez/Getty

Or at least that was plan.

So with Bears training camp just 10 days away, how will Trestman use the players on the current roster to replace Rodriguez's potential production?

In the run game

Emery didn't cut E-Rod until after he had conducted a workout at Halas Hall with a handful of free-agent fullbacks. The club liked what they saw out of Tony Fiammetta as a pure lead-blocking fullback and signed him the following day.

Like Rodriguez, Fiammetta is also a former fourth-round pick. Drafted out of Syracuse by Carolina in 2009, Fiammetta played in 24 games, with 11 starts, for the Panthers his first two years in the league. After battling concussion issues in Carolina, he moved on to Dallas in 2011, playing in 10 games with six starts. He signed with the Patriots last year but was placed on the Reserve/Left Squad list in August and missed the entire season.

Fiammetta has just 11 carries and eight receptions in his three-year career. He's a fairly one-dimensional player who was brought in to handle the lead-blocking duties. As a run blocker, Pro Football Focus has consistently graded him as middle of the pack.

He has a limited skill set, so that will provide a challenge for Trestman in disguising his formations when Fiammetta is on the field. If opposing defenses know it's going to be a run every time he's in the huddle, it defeats the purpose of having him out there. As such, expect Fiammetta to get a number of opportunities as a pass catcher this year.

Remember, when Trestman was offensive coordinator in Arizona in 1998, his second leading pass catcher was fullback Larry Centers, who caught 69 passes that season. Fiammetta doesn't possess the same receiving skills as did Centers but he's surely going to get a number of passes thrown his way.

But his main role will be to clear paths for Matt Forte and Michael Bush, which is his specialty. With Fiammetta, the Bears have replaced E-Rod the lead blocker.

In the passing game

In reality, Rodriguez was going to be the fifth or sixth option in the passing game. He caught just four passes for 21 yards his rookie season and would have been competing for touches this year with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte.

Rodriguez may have approached 20-25 catches this season but there wouldn't have been enough balls to go around for him to reach 40-50 receptions. Those 20-25 catches will be split between Fiammetta and whoever wins the backup tight end position.


Kyle Adams
Grant Halverson/Getty

In that competition, three frontrunners have emerged this offseason: Kyle Adams, Steve Maneri and Fendi Onobun.

Maneri doesn't offer much as a pass catcher. If he makes the team, it will be to fill the edge-blocking role manned by Matt Spaeth the past two years. That leaves Adams and Onobun to fight for those remaining 10-15 catches.

Onobun is the more athletic of the two and has a higher upside, but Adams is more seasoned and brings a solid all-around skill set. It will be a great competition to watch in Bourbonnais.

Notable is the fact that Trestman has lined up both Onobun and Adams in the backfield at different points this offseason, so the winner of the backup tight end job will be doing his fair share of blocking as well.

Final Analysis

Most will agree that Rodriguez needed to be cut. He's a young player with four strikes against him already, one who showed more dedication to drinking than he did to the Bears organization. Hopefully he turns his life around and has a long, successful career in Miami, but his time in Chicago was up.

Yet his loss now forces the team to use two players to replace the production of one. That will give them less roster flexibility when it comes time to build the final 53. The result could be that the team heads into the regular season light on depth at defensive tackle or wide receiver because of the need to keep three tight ends and a fullback.

The Bears shouldn't have any problem replacing E-Rod's potential production but they'll need to take up more roster space to do it.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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