Injuries Mount at Tight End

Bourbonnais - Separating the keepers from the cuts at tight end may be one of the toughest chores for coaches this year. No one player has jumped ahead of the competition and now the position has been hit hard by injury.

"That's an area of concern," said offensive coordinator Ron Turner. "We've got to step up and make plays there. We tried to put them in position to make plays and give them the opportunity the other night and we've got to have someone step up and get involved."

Desmond Clark, the starter the past two years, had expected to bounce back from a disappointing 2004 season, but he has yet to practice because of the ankle injury. Under Terry Shea, Clark saw his reception total drop from 42 to 24 in what was supposed to be a tight end friendly scheme.

The same could be said for Bear tight ends across the board. The position accounted for 366 yards on 36 receptions and two touchdowns. While the numbers should improve in Turner's system, the tight ends were on a similar pace in the preseason opener. Of the Bears 22 completions, only 2 went to the tight end.

There were multiple drops from the group against the Dolphins and that is obviously an area that needs to be upgraded.

"Normally, there is a big improvement from Game 1 to 2 and we're hoping that will be the case with our tight ends," said head Lovie Smith.

The fact three of the seven tight ends on the roster are expected to miss Friday's preseason match-up with the Rams further complicates the picture.

Clark is expected to return to the field on Sunday after spraining an ankle more than two months ago. Despite the fact that no player has jumped out in Clarks' absence, he feels there he has to show something to his new offensive coordinator.

"I can't prove anything until I get out there and actually show what I can do, and until you can see what I can do, they don't have anything to go by," Clark said.

Six-year veteran Dustin Lyman missed several practices with an ankle injury, but returned too soon and will now have to sit out against the Rams.

Ron Johnson is the newest name added to the rash of injuries at tight end. He suffered a knee sprain against the Dolphins and will not be on the field Friday.

John Gilmore will start his second straight game with Gabe Reid, Darnell Sanders and John Owens also seeing time.

Gilmore, 25, is the biggest (6-feet-5, 260 pounds) tight end on the roster and the best blocker, according to Turner.

"I take a lot of pride in it," Gilmore said. "I enjoy it. It's an attitude thing. You've got to go out there with attitude when it comes to blocking. I think attitude supersedes technique in the long run. If I get a couple passes in, that's extra."

The fourth-year Penn State product was third on the Bears with 15 special-teams tackles last season, but he's looking for a more prominent role this season, and because of injuries, he's getting a long look. As a rookie in 2002, Gilmore ended the season as the Bears' starter because of injuries, and he caught 10 passes for 130 yards. But he's caught just one pass the past two seasons for 11 yards.

Owens signed with the Bears midway through the season and appeared in two games without a catch. Through three years in the league he has just five receptions.

A knee injury ended an impressive camp for Reid a year ago and he's missed time because of a calf injury. He has the ability to catch the ball, but struggles with the blocking aspect of the position.

Sanders represents the team's sole effort to go outside of the organization to improve the talent level at tight end. He's with his third team in four years.

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