The Chicago Bears spent heavily on Martellus Bennett this offseason, who was considered by most as the best free-agent tight end on the market. Bennett's ability as both a receiver and a blocker should pay substantial dividends for the offense this year.
Yet there's another tight end on the roster who has looked almost as good as Bennett throughout this offseason: Fendi Onobun. When you consider the fact Onobun just began playing football in 2010, and sat out last season as a free agent, his development is nothing short of amazing.
During the first practice of Bears training camp this morning, Onobun was an integral part of the first-team offense, catching numerous passes from Jay Cutler. In fact, he caught nearly as many passes today as Bennett. It appears that Onobun, who has ideal size for an NFL tight end (6-6, 260), has finally flipped the switch in his effort to learn the game of football.
"Absolutely, I'm definitely understanding the game a lot better," Onobun told Bear Report after practice. "Coming in from 2010 to now, just understanding the game, understanding how to read defenses, knowing assignments, a lot better."
That transition hasn't been easy though.
"It was rough because I had never played before," Onobun said. "Over time, spending time with the quarterbacks, spending time with other players, working out with the guys, just really understanding how the game works and reading defenses, it's helped immensely the last few years. I'm definitely not where I was. I'm still growing, still getting better, but I'm definitely a lot better player, especially mentally."
As a member of the Wildcats basketball team from 2005-2009, Onobun was a part-time player who averaged just 7.3 minutes, 1.8 points and 1.2 rebounds per game. Obviously, a professional career in basketball wasn't in his future, so Onobun transferred to Houston where he picked up the game of football. He believes the skills and techniques he used on the basketball court translate well to the football field.
"Absolutely. There are a lot of routes we run where we're kind of posting up right in the middle in front of the quarterback," said Onobun. "I'm able to use my speed and agility, whether it's trying to work across the linebackers face, it's similar to a crossover. Even just sticking and planting at the top of a 7 route, like a pivot. There's a lot of things that are transferable from basketball to football. It makes my job a lot easier, especially when I'm running routes."
And in the red zone, his size, leaping ability and experience battling pivot players in basketball should do him well, particularly in jump-ball situations.
"That's my favorite," he said. "I'm not thinking about boxing out, I'm just thinking about jumping up and getting the ball."
Chicago was forced to cut Evan Rodriguez this offseason after multiple off-field run ins with the law. Despite Rodriguez's multi-faceted skill set, the team felt comfortable waiving him knowing that Onobun was in the mix. As a result, Onobun has been used not only as a tight end on the edge but also as a fullback, H-back and wide receiver.
"I just think they're putting me in the best position to be successful," he said. "It's definitely fun to get out there and run around and catch the football."
During today's practice, tight ends were featured predominantly. The offense had a solid day throwing the ball, and both Bennett and Onobun were a big part of that. And it doesn't appear that's going to change any time soon, which means Onobun could play a major role in the success of the offense this season.
"I love this offense," he said. "Just the opportunity for the tight end to get the football, and the opportunity for everybody to get the football. It's a really balanced offense. It exploits our talents as players."
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.