No Tight End in Sight

Offensive coordinator Terry Shea came to the Bears with the reputation as a play caller who had an affinity for the tight end, but there's been little evidence of that through the first five games.

Starting tight end Desmond Clark, who caught 43 passes last season, has just 5 catches this year for 82 yards. Backup Dustin Lyman also has 5 catches for a measly 6.4-yard average.

In Kansas City, where Shea spent the previous three years as the quarterbacks coach, tight end Tony Gonzalez has made the last five Pro Bowls while averaging 75 catches and 932 yards a year.

But Bears tight ends have been virtually ignored this season heading into Sunday's game against the Bucs, and no one can blame that on former offensive coordinator John Shoop, who is the quarterbacks coach in Tampa Bay, where their tight end, Ken Dilger, has 14 catches for 135 yards.

"It's been frustrating," Lyman said. "I want a bigger role, but it's still early; there's a lot of season left. By the time we get five more games out of the way, who knows, we might catch a lot of balls between now and then and nobody will remember the first five games. I'm not trying to worry about it too much, but I am trying to do whatever I can to get the offensive coordinator to call a play in my direction."

Both Clark and Lyman insist it's too soon to give up on their position in Shea's offense. And both would love to establish the tight end this week when the 1-4 Bears try to get the offense going against the 1-5 Bucs. Like just about everyone else, the Bears' tight ends expected an improved passing game this season, but it hasn't happened.

"I was a guy who was critical of the offense last year, and looking at the offensive production from last year to this year, people see a lot of similarities," Clark said. "But this is a far better offense, and it has more opportunities to be productive, we just have to put everything together."

When it comes to throwing the ball, any improvement this season has been marginal at best. The Bears finished last year 30th in passing yards per games, and they are 29th this season. They were 32nd last year in average gain per pass play and they're 29th this season. Last year they were 29th in sacks allowed; this year they're 25th.

But Clark insists Shea's scheme will eventually prove more effective than Shoop's was.

"This offense is five times better than the offense we ran last year," Clark said. "Trust me. "When we start hitting on all cylinders you'll see it. We just have to get things going."

That won't happen until the Bears get better play at quarterback, and Jonathan Quinn is expected to start his third straight game there Sunday. But if his play doesn't improve significantly over last week's effort, he'll get a quick hook in favor of rookie Craig Krenzel.

Routes to the tight end would seem to be confidence builders for any novice quarterback, but the Bears have also had to use their tight ends as extra pass protection.

"We've been used to give the quarterback some security and keep an extra person in to block," Lyman said. "But I feel that the tight end is also a big target, and we've got good hands to catch the ball and we can catch the ball in traffic. So I think it's a good way to get the offense warmed up, a good way to pick up a first down or two, especially when we're struggling."

Now would seem like the perfect time.

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