2009 Position by Position Review: TE

After a disappointing 7-9 record in 2009, it's time to take a look back at the Chicago Bears and discover what went right and what went so incredibly wrong. Thursday, we tackle the tight ends.

2009 Review
Since new quarterback Jay Cutler and star-in-waiting tight end Greg Olsen became such fast friends on the Chicago nightlife scene, it was assumed Cutler already had a favorite target and Olsen would make the first of many Pro Bowls.

While Olsen did catch 60 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns, all career-highs for the former first-round pick, Oakland's Zach Miller had more receptions (66), Green Bay's Jermichael Finley had more yards (676) and Minnesota's Visanthe Shiancoe had more TDs (11). None of the aforementioned tight ends even made the Pro Bowl, with San Francisco's Vernon Davis and Dallas' Jason Witten representing the NFC and Indianapolis' Dallas Clark and San Diego's Antonio Gates going from the AFC. All the more disappointing, Olsen dropped a lot of bang-bang balls just after contact downfield that could have resulted in big plays – big plays this offense was expecting from him but by in large didn't get.

As for Olsen's backups, Desmond Clark missed five contests and only reeled in 19 passes as a result, and even though Kellen Davis scored the first three touchdowns of his career, the 6-7, 262-pounder still isn't much of a blocker.

Inside the Numbers
Billed as more of a hybrid pass catcher than a hand-on-the-ground tight end thanks to his tremendous combination of height and speed, Olsen somehow averaged only 10.2 yards per reception, which was just 34th in the league for tight ends with at least 10 catches. Olsen's long gain on the year was a respectable 41 yards, although 17 tight ends, including little-used reserves like Carolina's Gary Barnidge (55) and Kansas City's Sean Ryan (43), topped it.


TE Desmond Clark
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

Thumbs Up
Once Clark was fully healthy again the final two games and allowed offensive coordinator Ron Turner to utilize more two-tight end sets, suddenly Matt Forte had more room to run and Cutler could make more plays outside the pocket on bootlegs and rollouts. And it's not like Olsen had a bad season or anything, as he is already fifth on Chicago's all-time list for receptions by a tight end and fourth in yards just three years into his career, but he didn't set the league on fire like so many experts projected after Cutler's arrival.

Thumbs Down
The offensive line certainly deserves the lion's share of the blame for Forte and Co. only averaging 93.2 yards per game on the ground, just 29th in the NFL, but the tight ends didn't help much because neither Olsen nor Davis is so much as adequate when asked to block. An argument can be made that the Bears were more efficient on offense when Clark was the starter and Olsen was solely on the field in passing situations.

2010 Preview
Clark will be 33 next season and is no longer the starter, plus he will be in the final year of his contract, but it makes sense to bring him back since he doesn't make a ton of money and is a respected presence in the locker room.

Not only does Olsen need to become a more well-rounded player if he wants to make the leap into elite status in this league, but the coaching staff needs do a better job taking advantage of what the 6-5, 252-pounder does well. Instead of forcing him to block bigger and stronger defensive ends on running plays and sending him on so many short patterns on passing plays, accept the fact that he's not a strong blocker and exploit the mismatches he creates with linebackers and safeties down the field. With Turner out of the picture, perhaps a new offensive coordinator – a replacement is yet to be hired – will take the shackles off Olsen and get more out of him.

The Bears kept Michael Gaines on the 53-man roster coming out of the preseason to motivate Davis, but after Gaines was released Oct. 17, Davis continued to disappoint and may not be the No. 3 this team needs.


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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.


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