Desmond Clark has made the Bears' decision to utilize the tight end as a pass receiver this year look brilliant.
There are several tight ends with greater name recognition and bigger reputations than Clark – the Chargers' Antonio Gates, the Chiefs' Tony Gonzalez, the Giants' Jeremy Shockey, the Patriots' Ben Watson, and the Ravens' Todd Heap, for example. But none of them have more receiving yards this season than the 193 Clark has accumulated on 12 receptions.
Among tight ends, only the Browns' Kellen Winslow has more yards than Clark --- four more. And only Winslow, the Eagles' L.J. Smith and Heap have more catches. Clark's production has helped the Bears become No. 1 in the NFL in yards per pass attempt and No. 5 in total passing yards, but he may be unavailable Sunday night because of a sprained foot. The eight-year veteran has yet to practice this week but remains optimistically listed as questionable. The Bears insist they won't abandon the tight end, even if Clark can't play.
"We still will have a tight end position that we'll try to get the ball to," coach Lovie Smith said. "It's not the same of course when you don't have your starter. He's playing as well as just about any tight end that's out there right now. But we'll move on without him if we have to. We won't take the tight end out of the game plan or anything like that. Hopefully, Rex (Grossman) will still feel comfortable throwing to whoever we have out there."
If Clark's absent, backups John Gilmore and Gabe Reid will get a chance to contribute. Gilmore has just two receptions for eight yards this season, but both were for touchdowns. Reid missed the first two games with back spasms but was back on the field last week, although he's still looking for his first reception.
"It's a great opportunity for both of them," Grossman said. "I know what they can do, and they can step up and play extremely well. I know Gabe gets the label of the receiving tight end, but he can block well, too. John is a better receiver than people think. So I think we'll mix it up a little bit with both of them."
Gilmore's role in his previous four years with the Bears has been as a special teams player and an extra blocking tight end in running situations. But he started four games at the end of his rookie season in 2002 because of injuries to John Davis and Dustin Lyman and caught a career-best 10 passes for 130 yards.
"I've been here before," Gilmore said. "I'm no stranger to it; it's my job."
The 6-5, 257-pound Gilmore's job now is to disprove the theory that he's just a blocker.
"It's a label position," he said, "either you're a blocker or you're a receiver. My job is to go out there and block in the running game. They made it clear to me when I came here. When you get labeled, only the people amongst you or close to you know what you're capable of doing because I don't get put in those positions to go out there and catch balls.
"But Rex knows what I'm capable of doing. The difference between me and Des, in a nutshell, is that I'm a better blocker than Des. Des is a good blocker; I'm a better blocker. Des is a better route runner; I'm a good route runner. We both catch the ball well."
Reid started three games last season when the Bears opened in a two-tight end formation. He was originally claimed by the Bears off the Titans' practice squad late in the 2003 season and spent 2004 on injured reserve with a torn ACL.
In the case of free safety Terrence Holt, the Lions game Sunday at St. Louis can be considered a family affair. Holt will be playing against his brother Torry, a Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Rams.
In the case of cornerback Dre' Bly, it won't be family across the line of scrimmage but it will be close.
"Them guys raised me," said Bly. "Isaac (Bruce) and then Torry, we came out together so, basically, covering them every day is the big reason why I'm able to develop over the years and play at the level I play at every day, because of them and facing them every day.
"I'm definitely looking forward to going back and competing against them, bringing back some memories. Whenever we have played each other since I left, it's always been fun for both of us and Isaac, also, so it's something I'm looking forward to."
Bruce, also a Pro Bowl receiver, was an established NFL star when Bly and Torry Holt came to the Rams as rookies with the Super Bowl championship team of 1999 and Bly has long maintained that it was the daily practice sessions against those two receivers that enabled him to sharpen his skills to the Pro Bowl level he reached in his first two seasons (2003-04) with the Lions.
Terrence Holt and his older brother Torry played with each other more often than against each other as youngsters, growing up North Carolina.
"I'm used to playing against him (but) for the most part we tried to pick each other and play on the same teams, even though sometimes we'd end up playing against each other," Terrence Holt said. "But those battles can't compare to this, at this level with so much riding on the games."
Although the competition will be intense Sunday, there will still be a feeling of brotherly concern in the Holt family members at the game. It's something they have talked about in their phone conversations this week.
"We talk, we're too close not to talk," Terrence said. "We just think about how precious this moment is, to be able to play each other again. This will be our third time but it doesn't grow old, anytime you get to play your brother ... it's a crazy time but it's something we cherish.
"Our family, we've been thinking about this since we saw it on our schedule and it's finally here."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers weren't tipping their hand Thursday about who will be the starting guards Monday night at Philadelphia.
Daryn Colledge, Tony Moll and Jason Spitz all took reps with the No. 1 unit in practice, the second and final padded workout of the extended week. Head coach Mike McCarthy, who didn't address reporters Thursday, said Wednesday that a determination would be made later.
Spitz has practiced the last two days after being out since suffering a deep thigh bruise in the season opener Sept. 10. He remains questionable on the injury report, however.
Colledge and Moll would appear to be the likely starters on the left and right sides, respectively, as they have been for the previous two games. Spitz, though, worked at both spots Thursday as he attempted to prove to the coaches that he's ready to rejoin the starting group.
McCarthy said that he would play the best two out of the three rookies, regardless of position. Spitz opened the preseason as the starter at right guard, then was moved to the left side after Colledge struggled in the first exhibition game. Moll was promoted to starter at right guard and has held the spot ever since.
"Their experience level is very similar," McCarthy said of the trio. "We're trying to get continuity. That's why we made the decision that we did early in training camp (with demoting Colledge). Jason, prior to the injury, was the most consistent of the three. So, we're trying to find the best combination."
McCarthy acknowledged that he prefers to have Spitz on the left side because of his pull-block capabilities on power runs that are generally to the right side.
"But, there's an argument that he's better suited at right (guard)," McCarthy said.
The marked progress made by Colledge since becoming a starter again makes it more likely that Spitz will go back to the right side and displace Moll. Given Spitz's health status, another changing of the guards would seem more realistic to happen after Monday's game.