Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has quite a few components of his system that are an absolute must, with a third tight end that can be effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations being one of them.
The Monsters of the Midway had a good one for a while in John Gilmore, as the former Penn State Nittany Lion was an excellent blocker on the end of the line of scrimmage, caught the ball reasonably well on play-action passes, and also contributed on special teams. But after Gilmore signed with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason, the Bears lost a critical contributor to their offense even though he was clearly behind veteran Desmond Clark and youngster Greg Olsen on the depth chart. While fifth-round draft pick Kellen Davis is almost 6-7 and weighs in at a sturdy 262 pounds, he's never proven to be much of a blocker and was eventually replaced as the No. 3 tight end last year by fellow rookie Chris Williams, who is an offensive tackle.
Tailback Matt Forte was terrific as a first-year player both on the ground and through the air, but the Midway Monsters were not able to push the pile consistently on short-yardage calls and, therefore, had trouble moving the chains consistently.
General manager Jerry Angelo recognized this critical hole on his roster and signed Michael Gaines, a five-year veteran most recently of the NFC North rival Lions, in free agency. Even though Gaines has never caught more than 25 passes in a season and bounced around from Carolina to Buffalo to Detroit to Chicago since '06, the Central Florida alumnus is a more accomplished – and much more willing – blocking option than Davis and could push for playing time behind Clark and Olsen. Davis may have a bright future as a pass catcher and seems to make a highlight-reel grab in most every practice, but that's not what the Bears are asking him to do.
If Davis isn't capable of giving this offense what it needs in three-tight end packages, can Gaines get the job done?
To help answer that question, Bear Report enlisted the help of Nate Caminata, who is the Publisher of RoarReport.com on the Scout.com network.
TE Michael Gaines
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Caminata Says: At 6-4 and 277 pounds, Gaines has an excellent body for a tight end and provides a large target for his quarterback. He also uses the size and strength of his upper body to block quite effectively, whether downfield or on the line, which is what he primarily did with Detroit. But Gaines will never be confused for a receiver, despite having a decent pair of hands. He'll make you cringe upon receiving the ball because he turns upfield incredibly slowly and cradles the ball so awkwardly that he becomes prone to fumbles. This issue led to three fumbles in 2008. He isn't a bad asset if you can spare a roster spot on a one-dimensional athlete. But in an NFL where tight ends are asked to become more versatile – that's why the Lions spent the No. 20 pick on Brandon Pettigrew – players like Gaines are a dying breed.
JC's Take: A lot of Bears fans are high on Davis because he is has big body and catches the ball with pillow-soft hands, but he came to the Windy City with a reputation that he wasn't much of a worker.
That being said, the three-tight end formation is a staple of Turner's offense, especially near the goal line, and Davis was not able to step in and do the job as a rookie. Olsen has been criticized from time to time because he hasn't developed his blocking all that much since coming into the league as a first-round pick in 2007, but he's practically a wide receiver these days and isn't asked to push defenders around on the ground very often. The mere presence of Gaines suggests that Davis is no better of a blocker today then he was a year ago.
Suddenly, Davis went from having a bright future in Chicago to being in jeopardy of a place on the 53-man roster.