Battle of the North: Tight ends

The Bears and Vikings easily have the best tight ends in the division. Beat writers from each of the NFC North teams evaluate the position in our continuing series comparing personnel in the division.


Starters — Greg Olsen, Desmond Clark. Backups — Michael Gaines.

Because the Bears often line up in two-TE sets, Olsen and Clark are frequently on the field at the same time and both get extensive playing time and plenty of attention in the passing game. They combined for 95 catches last season, 54 by Olsen, who displays the speed and pass-catching skills of a wide receiver. Clark is the better blocker and should be slowing down at age 32, but he keeps putting up good numbers. Olsen isn't much of a blocker, but he isn't asked to be, and this could be the season he takes a huge step as a big-time producer in the passing game. The 6-foot-2, 267-pound Gaines was added to do the dirty work as a blocker on running plays, but he has decent hands, too.


Starter — Brandon Pettigrew. Backups — Will Heller, Casey Fitzsimmons, Dan Gronkowski, Jake Nordin.

Pettigrew was not a popular pick in Detroit. But the Lions took him at No. 20 overall because he was the most complete tight end in the draft, and tight end is an important position in Linehan's offense, not a luxury. Pettigrew has an opportunity to start immediately. Heller is known for his blocking, Fitzsimmons for his pass-catching and special teams prowess. Gronkowski, the second-to-last pick, needs to make an impression. He could end up on the practice squad.


Starter — Donald Lee. Backups — Jermichael Finley, Tory Humphrey, Evan Moore, Spencer Havner, Carson Butler, Devin Frischknecht.

Lee's hold on the starting job after two years is tenuous. His production slipped last season, when he had 39 catches for 303 yards and five touchdowns. The late-season emergence of Finley in 2008 sets up one of the top battles in training camp. Finley is the team's most athletic tight end, but the third-round draft pick had a rocky start to his pro career and went so far as to criticize the play calling and Rodgers' throwing ability. Humphrey's time in Green Bay after four injury-plagued years could be up after he didn't contribute much in playing a full season for the first time. The No. 3 spot might be filled instead by Havner, primarily a practice-squad linebacker for the Packers the last three years who is being looked at as a two-way player this summer. Butler, an undrafted rookie out of Michigan, is an intriguing prospect.


Starter — Visanthe Shiancoe. Backups — Jeff Dugan, Jim Kleinsasser, Garrett Mills.

Signed as a free agent in March 2007 by the Vikings, Shiancoe proved to be a major disappointment in this first season with the organization and also got off to a rocky start last year. But something eventually clicked and Shiancoe ended up having an excellent 2008 campaign. Playing in an offense that isn't afraid to throw the ball to the tight end, Shiancoe caught 42 passes for 596 yards and seven touchdowns. That tied wide receiver Bernard Berrian for the team lead in receiving touchdowns. Shiancoe is an extremely hard worker and is often one of the last players to leave the field after practice. While Shiancoe is a receiving threat, Kleinsasser is one of the NFL's best when it comes to blocking. Kleinsasser caught only six passes last year, but the Vikings thought enough of him that they signed the 11-year veteran to a three-year, $9 million contract in order to retain the pending free agent last February. Dugan, meanwhile, provides versatility in that he can play both tight end and fullback.

Viking Update Top Stories