2007 review: The Bears featured one of the better tight end tandems in all of football this past season, as veteran starter Desmond Clark and rookie backup Greg Olsen combined to catch 83 passes for 936 yards and six touchdowns.
Clark enjoyed a career year in 2006 as the Midway Monsters made it all the way to Super Sunday, but it was no secret that a true difference-maker has been needed at his position for way too long. While Clark started all 16 games and finished third on the team with 44 receptions, Olsen lined up everywhere from tight end to H-back to fullback to wideout and brought some flexibility to an offense that sorely needed it. Third-stringer John Gilmore is a glorified tackle and caught just three passes, but he gets the job done as a blocker in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
If there is one position on offense that seems relatively stable heading into next season, it's tight end by a wide margin.
On the rise: Olsen missed the first two games with a sprained knee and only averaged 10.0 yards on his 39 receptions, but he certainly has the ability to be the next in a long line of great tight ends from Miami. However, offensive coordinator Ron Turner needs to utilize the former Hurricane's speed down the middle more often, as way too many of his patterns were within a few yards of the line of scrimmage or near the sideline. If Rex Grossman is indeed brought back and earns his keep as the starter under center once again, he's proven to be quite capable of delivering the ball quickly and accurately in the seam between the safeties.
Free falling: It may unfair to qualify Clark as "free falling" since he's still a solid pro and has done nothing to deserve a demotion, but Olsen is the future at the tight end position and needs to become a bigger part of the offense. Clark will be 31 years old in April and doesn't offer much in terms of explosive plays, although he should be commended for averaging 13.2 yards per catch the last two seasons. Much like Mark Anderson took over for Alex Brown at defensive end a year ago because he had more upside, don't be surprised if Olsen supplants Clark in the starting lineup before the team reports to Lake Forest for minicamp.
TE Greg Olsen
M. Spencer Green/AP Images
Free agency/NFL Draft: The top two spots on the depth chart are set regardless of who eventually emerges as the starter, but Gilmore is a free agent and may look to go elsewhere. If that's the case, since neither Clark nor Olsen is an elite blocker on the end of the line, GM Jerry Angelo will be in the market for a third tight end who can contribute in short-yardage and goal-line. And because there are much bigger fish to fry in the upcoming draft, signing a run-of-the-mill free agent seems to make the most sense.
2008 preview: Clark started all of `07 while Olsen was sprinkled in here and there, but look for Olsen to start in `08 and Clark to be relegated to backup duties. Since the wide receiver position is a major question mark right now even if Bernard Berrian re-signs in free agency, it might not be a bad idea to have both Clark and Olsen on the field together regularly in two-tight formations because both of them can create mismatches in the secondary. This offense just seems to work a lot better when the tight ends are heavily involved in the game plan, so Olsen could be on the verge of a breakout performance next season.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.