Starter - Greg Olsen. Backups - Brandon Manumaleuna, Desmond Clark, Kellen Davis, Richard Angulo.
Expect a lot of two-tight end formations, which would suit a unit that has depth and talent. Olsen is the tight end the Bears drafted in the first round in 2007 with the idea of making him one of the centerpieces of the offense. His receptions have increased from 39 to 54 to 60, his receiving yards from 391 to 574 to 612, and his touchdowns from two to five to eight. But tight end has not traditionally been a staple of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz's passing offense, so it remains to be seen if Olsen's role as a pass catcher diminishes. Manumaleuna is the big, blocking tight end that Martz wanted for his scheme. He isn't much of a pass-catching threat, but his size (6-2, 295) essentially gives the Bears another offensive lineman for pass protection and run blocking. Clark is a solid possession receiver with good blocking ability but, at 33, he could be close to the end of the line. Still, he has been written off in the past and still put up solid numbers. Davis has the size and athleticism to carve out a niche for himself, but he didn't show much improvement last season and needs to take another step to keep his spot on the roster.
Starter - Brandon Pettigrew. Backups - Tony Scheffler, Will Heller, Dan Gronkowski, Richard Dickson.
The Lions are playing it safe with Pettigrew's rehab from ACL surgery last December. They won't rush him at the start of this season, either, as they try to make sure last year's rookie first-round pick is ready to play a big role in the offense once the regular season starts. If he is, it's a rare position of strength for the Lions, who traded for Scheffler intending to utilize more two-tight end sets this season. Scheffler's ability as a receiver creates matchup problems, while backup Will Heller is the perfect fit as the blocking tight end. Tight end Dan Gronkowski found a home on the practice squad last season, and he may end up there again this year. The Lions also have been using tight end Jake Nordin as a fullback this offseason, so he could find his way on to the roster with a good preseason.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Jermichael Finley. Backups — Donald Lee, Andrew Quarless, Spencer Havner, Tom Crabtree.
Finley is on the cusp of being the next dominant tight end in the league. His breakthrough sophomore season, by the end of which he jumped ahead of Lee as the starter, featured 55 catches for 676 yards and five touchdowns. Lee's production dipped the last two seasons, when he had 39 and 37 receptions after a 48-catch, six-touchdown 2007 season. He will turn 30 Aug. 31 but remains an asset for doing the dirty work on the line. Quarless, a fifth-round draft pick, has big-play potential but will have to prove he has moved past a troubled career at Penn State. Havner, who spent the offseason recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in a motorcycle accident, could be the odd man out after coming through with four touchdown grabs in his move from linebacker to tight end last season.
Visanthe Shiancoe. Backups — Jeff Dugan, Jim Kleinsasser, Garrett Mills, Mickey Shuler.
Shiancoe appeared to be a bust in 2007 after signing a five-year, $18.2 million free-agent deal, but his hard work has helped him develop into a top-notch receiving threat. Last season, Shiancoe caught a career-high 56 passes and a team-leading 11 touchdowns. Kleinsasser is entering his 12th season and remains an outstanding blocking tight end. Shuler, whose father played in the NFL, was a seventh-round selection by the Vikings out of Penn State and could be headed for the practice squad. The Vikings continue to like Mills' ability as a receiver and Dugan remains a valuable backup who also can play fullback.
Comparing the North: Tight ends
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