While the offensive line took the lion's share of the blame for Chicago's 29th-ranked running game in 2009, and rightfully so, the tight end position didn't block as well as it had in previous years.
The Monsters of the Midway took their first step toward rectifying that problem Friday, signing free agent tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. Originally a fourth-round pick of the Rams in the 2001 NFL Draft, back when Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz was the coach in St. Louis, Manumaleuna is regarded as the premier blocker at his position thanks to in large part to a 6-2, 295-pound frame. Throughout his nine-year career, he has recorded 110 receptions for 965 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Rumors were swirling in the Windy City that Manumaleuna's arrival could lead to a trade of Greg Olsen, although the Bears are now saying Olsen isn't going anywhere.
For an insider's perspective on Manumaleuna and what he may bring to the Midway Monster offense, BearReport.com consulted with Michael Lombardo, the publisher of SDBoltReport.com on the Scout.com network. ...
Strengths: Manumaleuna is an incredible run blocker. You wouldn't know it by the subpar running game the Chargers produced last season, but he basically functions as a sixth offensive lineman. He is powerful at the point of attack and has strong hands and good lower-body strength. Where I found him most impressive was in pass protection. He often served as Philip Rivers' personal protector, lining up in the backfield and picking up any free blitzers. Manumaleuna has excellent awareness and lateral quickness, so he does well in this role. Also, he is a solid contributor on the kickoff-return team.
Weaknesses: As you'd expect from a 300-pound tight end, Manumaleuna is slow. It also takes him a very long time to get up to speed, so if he catches the ball from a stopped position, he isn't going very far. Because he's a blocking specialist, if Olsen were to go down with an injury, Chicago's No. 3 TE would have to become the starter because Manumaleuna cannot handle the pass-catching responsibilities that come with the role.
Lombardo Says: I think this is a great signing by the Bears. The Chargers wanted him back, but Manumaleuna and fellow tight end Kris Wilson were both unrestricted free agents. Because Manumaleuna and Wilson play similar games, the team was only going to keep one of them behind Antonio Gates. Wilson earned the right to stay in San Diego, but the Bears got the better player.
JC's Take: I've been saying for two years now that losing John Gilmore in free agency was going to hurt more than most Bears fans figured it would.
What will be interesting, however, is how often Martz calls those three-tight end formations, which is something former offensive coordinator Ron Turner did frequently in short-yardage and goal-line situations and why Gilmore has been missed. This is the role Chicago has tried to get Kellen Davis to embrace, but even though the former Michigan State Spartan is an impressive receiver at 6-6 and 262 pounds, his lack of improvement as a blocker signaled the need for the Manumaleuna signing. Bears fans should also be happy to hear about Manumaleuna's ability to be a quarterback bodyguard on passing plays – so should Jay Cutler.
I would have called this a slam-dunk move had Turner still been the OC because of his fondness for three-TE sets, but since Martz drafted Manumaleuna nine years ago, he should know how to get the most out of him, too.
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Scout's Analysis: Brandon Manumaleuna
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