22 Starters in 22 Days: Tight End

Leading up to training camp, JC will preview all 22 starters for the Chicago Bears on both sides of the ball – strengths, weaknesses and whatever lies in between. Today, we look at tight end.

Projected starter: Greg Olsen
The front office reportedly made an effort to trade him after bringing in Mike Martz as the new offensive coordinator, but after there proved to be little in terms of a market for him, Olsen is still in Chicago and atop the depth chart. While it's certainly possible that all this talk about the state of the tight end position is overblown, and Olsen certainly ran his fair share of routes and caught plenty of passes in OTAs, it's hard to ignore the fact that a physical freak like Vernon Davis was largely ignored the one year Martz spent in San Francisco. Martz has gone out of his way to tell the media that Olsen needs to be a blocker first and a pass catcher second, which is not the way the former first-round pick has gone about his business to date.

Projected backups: Brandon Manumaleuna, Desmond Clark, Kellen Davis
One of the "Big 3" free-agent signings during the offseason, along with defensive end Julius Peppers and running back Chester Taylor, Manumaleuna is essentially an extra blocker along the line of scrimmage and was originally drafted into a Martz-run offense with the Rams in 2001. However, with Manumaleuna recovering from a knee scope and missing both minicamp and OTAs, Clark get plenty of first-team reps with Olsen and still looks to have some life in those legs of his. Despite having a lot of natural ability and a frame to kill for at this position, Davis is no guarantee to make the final cut since it already looks like four tailbacks and six receivers are going to be a part of the 53-man roster – there is only room for so many skill-position players.

2009 Review
Even though he didn't live up to the Pro Bowl expectations placed in front of him after the acquisition of Jay Cutler, Olsen did lead the ballclub in catches and touchdowns, posting 60 receptions for 612 yards and eight scores. His effectiveness in the running attack was slim to none, however, as the Bears featured one of the worst ground games in the league and had trouble opening up holes for Matt Forte all year long, which is one of the reasons Manumaleuna is now in the Windy City. Clark missed five games and, therefore, had his least productive season in a Bears uniform, while Davis managed to record three TDs on only nine grabs.

2010 Preview
It's a known fact that Martz has never gone out of his way to get the ball into the hands of his tight ends, preferring a lot of three- and four-receiver sets in order to push the envelope downfield as much as possible. That being said, Olsen is still a matchup problem for shorter safeties and slower linebackers, provided he can play with a little more physicality and holds on to the ball when taking hits in traffic. The Bears didn't give Manumaleuna all that money to be a spectator, so expect him to help seal the edge on running plays and be Cutler's personal protector – he'll run the occasional route, too – on passing plays.

TE Greg Olsen
Dave Martin/AP

I'd much rather have ...
... Heath Miller in Pittsburgh. Despite little fanfare and next to no headlines, Miller caught more passes (76) for more yards (789) than Olsen last season and is still regarded as one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. Size has nothing to do with it, with Miller listed at 6-5, 256 and Olsen 6-5, 255. Blocking at the tight end position requires a little technique, but it's mostly about effort. Three years into his career, Olsen hasn't shown the requisite effort to be the least bit effective as a blocker. That might be one of the reasons general manager Jerry Angelo allegedly couldn't find a trade partner willing to give up more than a fifth-round pick for him.

But he's better than ...
Jeremy Shockey in New Orleans. A fellow former Miami Hurricane, Shockey has been a household name from the day he was taken by the Giants in the first round of the 2002 draft. But soon to be 30 years old and no longer someone defenses need to specifically scheme for, he has never played a full 16-game schedule and only scored 30 touchdowns in eight years – his career high is seven, while Olsen had eight in 2009. Never much of a blocker either, Shockey is one of the more overhyped and underwhelming stars of the game in recent memory.

Confidence-o-Meter: 5.9 *
Yes, Olsen was OK statistically last season. However, if you review the game tape, you'll find that he dropped an inordinate amount of passes down the field right after he took first contact. Plainly speaking, Olsen comes off as a soft player that doesn't like to get hit, which, naturally, is one of the reasons he can't move anybody around in the running game. Manumaleuna is now in Chicago and handsomely paid as a result. Unless Martz has a change of heart and believes Olsen is too good of a pass catcher to ignore on game day, look elsewhere for your fantasy tight end in 2010. He's a good player, no doubt. But in this offense, his skills perhaps won't be utilized properly.

* Much like Ron Swanson from "Parks and Recreation" came up with a scientifically perfect 10-point scale for human beauty, JC has done the same with confidence in tight ends. 10.0 is Kellen Winslow being helped off the field by his teammates after the "Epic in Miami."

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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter 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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