It's not an exaggeration to say that the tight end was largely ignored in Mike Martz's Rams offenses during the seven seasons he was in St. Louis.
So maybe Bears tight end Greg Olsen does have something to worry about, and not just the presence of free agent Brandon Manumaleuna, a blocking tight end signed by the team last month for $15 million over five years.
Martz was the Rams' head coach from 2000 until five games into the 2005 season, when he was fired. In 1999 he was the Rams' offensive coordinator under Dick Vermeil. Manumaleuna spent five of those seasons (2001-05) in the Rams' offense, including three as the starter, although he never caught more than 29 passes.
The most productive season any tight end had for Martz in St. Louis was in 2001, when Ernie Conwell caught 38 passes for 431 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers hardly compare to Olsen's 60 catches, 612 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
For the most part, Martz's tight ends have been run-blockers and pass-protectors first and foremost. But when Martz was hired by the Bears last month, he seemed open to the idea of utilizing Olsen's skills as a pass catcher.
"You take a look at what you have at tight end and who that guy is and what he can do, and then you go from there," Martz said. "In the past, we've always had these big, physical tight ends, who we tried to utilize in the running game and as pass blockers and then as wide receivers. Greg is different."
Olsen's statistics in 2009 weren't spectacular, but they exceeded the combined totals for all tight ends in any of the seven seasons that Martz was in St. Louis. Despite the Rams' prolific passing numbers, the combined number of catches by St. Louis tight ends never topped 50 under Martz. In 2000, all Rams tight ends caught a total of just 21 passes, and in ‘04 and ‘05 they caught only 22 passes.
Martz realizes that Olsen is a different kind of tight end than what he's had in the past, but Olsen still has to be able to block.
"When you can get a defense with normal personnel, and then move (Olsen) like you would a receiver in the slot and get him matched up on linebackers and safeties, it's going to be a mismatch," Martz said. "Then, with his ability to stand in there and slug it out, he's a complete player at that position, which is multi-dimensional."
It may be wishful thinking on Martz's part to believe that Olsen is an effective blocker, and the acquisition of the 295-pound Manumaleuna seems to cast doubt on Olsen's blocking ability. But the 6-foot-5, 255-pound three-year veteran has the size and athleticism to at least become a decent blocker.
"(Olsen) is a little bit like Ernie Conwell," Martz said, "but he's a little bit more fluid than Ernie was. Ernie was a very physical player, and he had speed. Because Greg has such great body control and is a fluid route-runner, there are so many things that he can do, which is something I've not experienced yet."
Martz had suggested that Hester's contributions in the offense might be scaled back, allowing him to make a bigger impact on special teams. Martz speculated that Hester might get most of his snaps in the slot, as a No. 3 receiver. But Smith said he wants Hester to get as many touches on offense as possible, similar to what it was last season.
"Mike had been here a few days, (and) you (the media) kind of hit him with questions," Smith told reporters.
"He likes the potential of Devin as a full-time receiver. I don't see him (getting fewer snaps). Not right now. To me, if you have a player as exciting as Hester, you want to get him as many touches as you possibly can. We're not going in saying he's going to get more plays or less plays. We'll keep all our options open.
"We definitely will still use him as a wide receiver. It will probably be the same role as last year — punt returner and full-time receiver. Mike is very comfortable with him being one of our lead receivers and it is unlimited what he can do."
That makes the most sense. Granted Hester is still not a true No. 1 NFL receiver, but he's the Bears' No. 1 until someone on the roster outplays him.
At one point last year, Hester was on pace for a 1,000-yard season, but his effectiveness plummeted after the half-way point, partially because of a calf injury that knocked him out for three full games and part of a fourth. In the final seven games of the season, Hester caught just nine passes but still led the Bears with 757 receiving yards.
In the first eight games of ‘09, Hester caught 41 passes for 548 yards, numbers that project to 82 catches and 1,096 yards over a full season.
The Bears traded their first-round choice (11th overall) to the Broncos as part of the Jay Cutler deal, and their second-round selection (42nd overall) went to the Buccaneers for defensive end Gaines Adams.
The Bears have one pick in each of the final four rounds, choosing 109th overall (fourth round), 141st (fifth round), 181st (sixth round) and 218th (seventh round).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "H-back is probably what Greg has been best suited for up to this point. Right now, that's been more Greg's role. We haven't talked a lot about him being an in-line tight end. That's the next step we have to take with Greg, getting him more comfortable to play in-line tight end." — Bears coach Lovie Smith, on tight end Greg Olsen, who will be required to block more often and more effectively in Mike Martz's system.
The Lions are interested in cornerback/return man Adam (Pacman) Jones and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. But general manager Martin Mayhew said nothing is imminent with either player.
Both players have had off-field troubles, and the Lions need to do more research. In Hargrove's case, the matter is more complicated because he is a restricted free agent.
The Lions sent Sheldon White, their vice president of pro personnel, to see Jones work out in New Orleans. Coach Jim Schwartz said Jones ran well, but that was only the first step. Jones has missed two of the past three seasons.
"The one thing you want to look at is what kind of condition he's in, what he's been doing," said Schwartz, who coached Jones in Tennessee for two years as the Titans' defensive coordinator. "If he's not in very good condition, then obviously it's not important for him to get back. But if he's in good condition, if he's ready to go, then that's part of that evaluation. ...
"There's more than needs to be done, and if we cross that bridge, that will be an organizational decision."
Asked if he had a strong interest in Jones or just was doing due diligence, Mayhew said: "Probably somewhere in between those two things. If it were strong, I think we would have signed him after the workout. He had a really good workout from what I understand. But we need to do some more research on him."
The Lions have until April 15 to sign Hargrove to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, and Mayhew said they would probably use "most of or all of that time" before making a decision. The Saints would have the right to match or receive a third-round pick.
The teams could work out a trade, but Mayhew said he has not approached the Saints about a trade because he knows they want to keep Hargrove.
"It is early stages — early with Martin, early with Jim," Ford Jr. said. "But I know the early returns are, I think, very good. I know my father's very pleased with both of them."
"I'm very pleased with the early returns, and I'm very pleased with our new season-ticket sales to date," Lewand said. "We've had new sales, and we've had renewals."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell disagreed. "I don't have any concern about it," Goodell said. Still, Schwartz said: "I think if the rule is good for overtime, it's probably good for regular season also. I know that they've talked about or they've left open the possibility that we can go to that system this year."
"Am I going to get part of that Emmy?" Browns coach Mangini said, smiling. "Are they going to call me up?" Mangini held up a hand, as if he were holding a microphone on stage at an awards ceremony. "‘I'd like to thank Eric Mangini,'" he said.
Mangini called a timeout that allowed Stafford to re-enter the game and throw the touchdown pass with no time left. He defended the decision, saying he needed to get the right personnel on the field. Asked if he was surprised Stafford got up, he said: "He's a tough kid. He took some big hits last year and kept getting up. He was tough in college. So no, it doesn't surprise me. He's competitive. I'd be surprised if he didn't get up."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a lot of money. But I really believe that Martin is the most prepared guy I've been around, and by the time the draft comes around, whoever the pick is, Martin will have done his homework in a way that I haven't seen before. I think we'll make the right pick." — Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr., talking about the No. 2 overall pick and general manager Martin Mayhew ... and subtly tweaking former president Matt Millen without mentioning him.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Mike McCarthy wasn't pulling anyone's leg when the discussion turned to the most unsettled position on his roster at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla.
Despite the snickering that could be coming from those on the outside, the Packers head coach likes his punters.
"Just from a personnel standpoint, I know the ability in our competitive punting situation we have today is better than what it was last year," McCarthy said. "I feel strongly that we'll be better just from a pure productive standpoint of just punting the football."
While it's true the Packers can't do much worse than the production they received last season from Jeremy Kapinos, whom they didn't re-sign as an exclusive-rights free agent, their prospective replacements raise more questions than solutions.
Kapinos was last in the league in 2009 with a net average of 34.1 yards. Green Bay moved on with a pair of street free agents with no prior experience in a meaningful NFL game.
The Packers signed Tim Masthay shortly after the season ended. Masthay, a former standout at Kentucky, had a cup of coffee with the Indianapolis Colts last summer.
Green Bay then recruited Chris Bryan from the ranks of Australian Rules Football, signing him March 16.
Both punters are left-footed.
"I think there's more ability there," said McCarthy, taking an indirect swipe at Kapinos. "Where they are, what they've shown to this point, I think it'll be noticeable to all you guys when you see them kick for the first time. I think the talent level (at the position) with those two individuals is definitely increased.
"I'm curious to get into the organized, legal workouts to see how they perform."
McCarthy said at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., on March 24 that there's a chance the 35-year-old Harris won't be ready for the start of next season.
"It's a significant injury," McCarthy said of the torn ACL in Harris' left knee that necessitated the operation.
Harris has been rehabbing in his native South Florida.
"He's doing movement drills," McCarthy said. "He feels like he is really making progress, and we'll just continue to watch that and see how he responds.
"I wouldn't bet against Al," McCarthy added. "It's like anything, you can't ever just put a timetable on a knee injury because they are all a little different. His was significant, just using (team doctor) Pat McKenzie's words."
McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements work closely with the quarterbacks on breaking down each offensive play from last season and making corrections through drills on the field.
"He's very fundamentally strong," McCarthy said of Rodgers, who is coming off a Pro Bowl-worthy season. "Just going back, there are a couple little things with his footwork that we'll continue to work on."
Flynn, in his third year in the league, stands to gain the most from quarterback school.
"It's a big offseason for Matt Flynn because he really prospered from it last year," McCarthy said. "We'll see if Matt can take another step. I just want to make sure he has everything in his grasp by the end of April, like he always has, so he'll have May and June to work on it (in the team workouts)."
The league awarded Green Bay a fifth-round selection (No. 169 overall) for losing defensive tackle Colin Cole to the Seattle Seahawks in free agency last year.
The Packers will have eight picks in the April 22-24 draft, with at least one in each of the seven rounds: first (23rd overall), second (56th), third (86th), fourth (122nd), fifth (154th and 169th), sixth (193rd) and seventh (230th).
"He's a winner, and I'm excited to see what he does in the National Football League," said McCarthy. He added, "It will be interesting to see who has the opportunity to develop him. I'd love the opportunity to develop him."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We haven't really presented it to the team yet, but the two biggest things defensively is going to be tackling and handling adversity. Our adversity situations (last season) were not close to what they needed to be and did not match up to our production throughout our defense." — Head coach Mike McCarthy, speaking at the NFL owners meetings, on what must improve with the defense.