Gilmore and Reid May Be Needed at Tight End

After years of clamoring to get the tight end position more involved in the Bears passing game, Desmond Clark emerged as a legitimate weapon the first two weeks of the 2006 season. But after suffering a sprained foot last week in Minnesota, all of a sudden, a crucial element of Rex Grossman's success may not be available on Sunday. It's time for John Gilmore and Gabe Reid to step up.

Desmond Clark has always been a quality receiving tight end, but for some reason, he was not utilized in the Bears offense very much. He caught just 24 passes each of the last two seasons, so many experts felt GM Jerry Angelo would target a tight end in the 2006 NFL Draft. But he chose not to do so, and after training camp, Clark was still the starter with John Gilmore and Gabe Reid backing him up.

Little did we know, however, that this was going to be the new-and-improved Desmond Clark.

The former Demon Deacon lost 15 pounds in the offseason and was a shining star in Bourbonnais. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner seemed to be making a concerned effort to finally make the tight end a bigger part of the passing game, and Clark was looking more than capable of handling his increased role. Still, many fans were skeptical and still wanted to see this rediscovered weapon get it done in the regular season.

Clark has responded with 12 receptions for 193 yards and a touchdown through the first three games. He has done wonders in the middle of the field and appears to be getting behind linebackers down the seam with relative ease. While Muhsin Muhammad looks to be his old self again and Bernard Berrian has shown his skills as a big-play threat, much of quarterback Rex Grossman's early-season success has to be attributed to his tight end.

But after suffering a sprained foot in the third quarter last Sunday in Minnesota, Clark is listed as questionable for this Sunday's primetime showdown against Seattle at Soldier Field.

Second-stringer John Gilmore made headlines in the home-opener against Detroit, reeling in two short-distance touchdown passes. Known much more for his blocking than his receiving, those are his only two catches this season. If Clark is not able to suit up and play, Gilmore would most likely get the start at tight end.

Gilmore knows he and Clark are different players, but he seems confident that he can get the job done should he be needed.

"The difference between me and Dez in a nutshell is I'm a better blocker than Dez," Gilmore said. "Dez is a good blocker. I'm a better blocker. Dez is a better route-runner. I'm a good route-runner. So that's the difference between us. We both catch the ball well. We'll see what happens."

Although Gilmore prepares like he's going to be the starter every week, he is comfortable with his role as a reserve and recognizes what Clark brings to the offense.

"I don't even know what his status is," Gilmore said. "I'm going out there preparing like I'm going to start, and if he does, that's a plus. I want him to play. Not that I don't want to start or play more, but what he's been doing in the passing game has obviously been helping us."

Reid showed some very soft hands in the preseason and through the exhibition games, but he has battled some injuries of late and is yet to record a reception this year.

"I just had a few back spasms, but nothing too serious," Reid said. "I'll be ready this week. I'll get lots of reps this week at practice."

Working the middle of the field is what Clark has done best so far, but Reid knows he needs to do what the coaching staff asks him to do as opposed to emulating Clark.

"Yeah, you know, I'm going to try," Reid said. "I'm going to try my best to get down there. Whatever they want me to do, whether to block or to stretch the field, I'm going to try my best to get that job done. I mean it's big shoes to fill when Dez is gone. He's having a great year."

Since Grossman has done such a nice job of checking down to his secondary targets, both Gilmore and Reid need to pick up the slack if Clark isn't ready to go Sunday night.

JC


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