Quarterback Rex Grossman threw for 3,193 yards and 23 touchdowns last season, by far the best performance of any Midway Monster signal-caller since Erik Kramer's 3,838 and 29 back in 1995. But it was the wild swings back and forth in Grossman's performance that drove Bears fans crazy and still has many of them wondering if the former Gator is indeed the answer under center. He may have posted a passer rating better than 100 in seven games, but in five other contests it was under 40.
If you take a closer look at Grossman and see when he was great and when he was ghastly, the tight end position tells much of the story.
In the seven games Grossman played when his passer rating was in triple digits, the tight ends caught a total of 30 passes for 419 yards and scored 8 touchdowns. That's a per-game average of 4.3 receptions for 59.9 yards with better than one TD.
But if you evaluate the five games when Grossman stunk up the joint, the TEs reeled in a paltry 11 passes for 118 yards and failed to find the end zone. That's a per-game average of only 2.2 receptions for 23.6 yards with a giant goose egg in the scoring department.
Much of the credit has to be given to Desmond Clark, who always had talent but underachieved his first three seasons in the Windy City. After registering just 24 receptions in both 2004 and 2005, he enjoyed a career year last season with 45 catches for 626 yards and 6 touchdowns. Not only did he drop about 15 pounds before training camp to get himself in better shape, but offensive coordinator Ron Turner made a concerted effort to get the tight ends more involved in the passing attack.
So how does Clark get rewarded for his efforts? Naturally, GM Jerry Angelo takes the top-rated TE available in this past weekend's NFL Draft.
Greg Olsen, the Bears' first-round selection and No. 31 overall, was the only elite tight end on the board in this year's draft. The University of Miami has produced its fair share of quality TEs in recent memory, including Bubba Franks of the Packers, Jeremy Shockey of the Giants, and Kellen Winslow Jr. of the Browns. Like Olsen, each of those players entered the draft after his junior season and was taken in Round 1.
Clark was fantastic a year ago and should be a big contributor on offense once again in 2007, but Olsen is the future for the Bears.
First-year Miami head coach Randy Shannon believes Olsen is the next in a long line of great Hurricane tight ends.
"Greg has a unique talent in that the Bears can make him have matchup problems with linebackers because he can catch the ball," Shannon said after Olsen was drafted, "and he runs very good routes. He can use his 6-5 body and block and do a lot of good things. He can go deep against a linebacker or a DB."
Angelo felt that Olsen might slip to him at No. 31 and wasted little time making up his mind once the Bears were on the clock.
"Needless to say," Angelo said shortly after the selection, "we're very excited about our No. 1 pick in Greg Olsen. We had targeted Greg during our meetings. We felt that there might be an outside chance that he'd still be there given the fact that he was really the only tight end that was touted in the first round from what we had heard from different teams. So it worked out well for us."
Although Olsen's receiving numbers at Miami weren't as gaudy as the likes of Shockey or Winslow, the Hurricanes were not nearly the offensive powerhouse these past few years as has been their reputation around college football. In three seasons, he racked up 87 receptions for 1,215 yards and 6 touchdowns. Olsen did lead the team in receiving last year, but the quarterback play from both Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman was erratic at best.
However, at the NFL Combine in February, Olsen may have been the single most impressive prospect to make the trip to Indianapolis.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 and 4.46 seconds, by far the best at his position and better than many of the receivers invited. He also did 23 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds – second-best among TEs – and looked incredibly polished running routes and catching the ball. Angelo prefers to judge players from game film as opposed to Combine numbers, but Olsen's performance was impossible to ignore.
Head coach Lovie Smith certainly took notice and is ready to see what his newest weapon can do.
"It's been documented the type of speed he has and just the athletic ability," Smith said on Saturday at Halas Hall. "We think he'll be able to stretch the field [and] make the tough catch with his size. It's a good day for us. We definitely added another piece to the puzzle for our offense."
And if Smith needs a reason to get Olsen the football as much as possible, all he has to do is look at Grossman's numbers.
|John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|