Making the Cut: TE Darnell Sanders

Lake Forest - Although Chicago represents Darnell Sanders' third destination in four seasons, he's had to play behind quality tight ends. Meaning the Bears may have found themselves a player on the rise.

Sanders initially came into the NFL as a fourth round pick by the Browns in 2002. He spent two years in Cleveland, staring 15 games over that span. The selection of Kellen Winslow, who was the sixth pick of the 2004 draft, signaled the end of his time in Cleveland.

Sanders failed to make the final roster and eventually signed with Atlanta, where he appeared in just four games last year behind Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler.

The Bears spent more than $50 million in the off-season to address the NFL's worst offense. Sanders represented the only free agent acquisition at tight end.

With just 18 career receptions the signing didn't warrant a lot of fanfare. Still Sanders has proven when given the chance, he can be a productive player in Ron Turner's system. He's the leading receiving among Bear tight ends in the preseason with five grabs for 45 yards.

"I'm very comfortable with the offense," Sanders said. "It fits perfect for my game cause you've got good running backs that makes blocking a little bit easier and every once in a while they throw the ball to the tight end."

At six-foot-5, 260-pounds Sanders possess the ability to be a physical blocker. In some cases, his reputation cost him the opportunity to become an every down player.

"I was an option quarterback in high school, so I'm a bigger guy that likes to block, but I also think I can move a little bit," Sanders said. "I've just got to get people to notice it."

The tight end picture is coming into focus with the team trading John Owens to Miami for LB Brendon Ayanbadejo on Sunday and releasing Dustin Lyman on Tuesday.

There are currently five tight ends still on the roster with three expected to make the team. Desmond Clark has a lock on the starting job, while John Gilmore appears to be No. 2 on the depth chart.

Meaning Sanders is competing with Ron Johnson and Gabe Reid for the final spot. Of the trio, Sanders is the only prototypical tight end. Johnson is a converted receiver that is trying to learn the position and Reid has great hands with average blocking skills.

If the Bears feel they need another blocker, Sanders would have a decided advantage. If team goes with the greater threat in the passing game, he could be on the outside looking in.

"People say my strength is blocking, I say my strength is both," Sanders said. "It's a tough question. I feel like I'm pretty complete, but I still need to work on a lot of things."

Ironically, Sanders could clinch a spot on the Chicago roster with a solid performance against the team that brought him into the league. The 26-year-old is trying not to put any additional pressure on the preseason finale against the Browns.

"I think I've just to got to stay consistent," he said. "I think that's the main thing in the NFL. Staying in and becoming a great player eventually comes down to consistency."

Something the Bears have lacked from their tight ends for years.


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