Bears TEs Have Some "Catching" Up To Do................
Bears tight ends have some catching up to do
Despite Martz's departure, position hasn't produced up to expectations
By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune reporter October 28, 2012
Maybe the bond between Jay Cutler and Greg Olsen isn't as strong as when the two frequented Chicago hotspots a few years back, but the Bears quarterback obviously still has a great appreciation for his former tight end.
"He'd be great in this offense,'' Cutler said of Olsen, now with the Panthers team visiting Soldier Field on Sunday. "Greg definitely would fit what we're doing right now as a tight end getting down the field, hitting the seams … just doing a lot of stuff.'' (So why aren't we using Davis that way? He's just about as as fast, he's even bigger and taller and when he's run those in the past they've been successful and we've made some big plays.)
Olsen was Cutler's Brandon Marshall before Marshall came to town. During the 2009 season in then-offensive coordinator Ron Turner's scheme, Olsen caught a team-high 60 passes for 612 yards as Cutler targeted him a team-high 108 times.
Then Mike Martz took over. Olsen's role diminished. (Yeah don't remind us of that)
Olsen was traded to the Panthers for a third-round draft pick later used to acquire Marshall. (But remind everyone about this especially the ESPN guys)
"At the time, the Bears made the best move for us, offensive-wise," Cutler said. "We didn't want to use him. It was a waste.'' (Not anymore of a waste than Davis and Rodriguez have been so far)
Olsen had all the talent to become the Bears' first Pro Bowl tight end since Hall of Famer Mike Ditka in 1966. He is of the same mold of the swift, pass-catching tight ends that have become fashionable around the league these days. And Olsen perhaps came the closest among a long line of tight ends to helping the Bears accomplish something the franchise has been unable to do for decades; Replace Ditka. (Sorry but Olsen was a long way still from making a Pro Bowl with the Bears and he still would be even if he was still here. Replacing Ditka means throwing to the TE and we don't have many of those plays even in Tice's playbook it seems)
Ditka is not sold on such a tight end being a dire need for the Bears.
"They're trying to stretch the field a little more by getting the outside receivers involved," he said. "So I don't see that as a problem right now. I really don't.''
Cutler understands Ditka reasoning but disagrees somewhat.
"I'm selfish. I mean, I want everything,'' Cutler said. "I would love to have (a pass-catching tight end). It's a luxury item by the way (Ditka) is talking. If you do have a guy like that and you know how to use him, it can be a dangerous thing.
"Look at the Patriots. Look at New Orleans. Even with all those weapons those teams have, they're still showcasing that guy. If you don't have one … you can, by all means, be successful without a guy like that. But if you know how to use him, he can be quite a weapon.'' (Yet we have two guys, one built like Gonkowski and the other very simliar to Hernandez and we're doing nothing to develop those guys into that kind of player. You need to talk to Tice about this Jay. You have guys who are supposed to have the talent to do just what NE and NO does with their guys but your OC isn't using them that way. In fact he has one of them playing FB and he hasn't caught a pass all year.)
Cutler has targeted his tight end trio of Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth, and Kyle Adams 27 times this year. They have 12 catches combined. Seven tight ends in the NFL already have 30-plus catches, led by the Falcons' Tony Gonzalez (43 catches) and the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski (35). (Less targets than other guys have catches and less than a 44% completion rate when you do throw to them versus a 62% completion rate when the ball goes to Marshall! So whose fault is this? Are we not calling their number enough, are the not catching the ball enough or are you not hooking up with them when they're open? Gotta be an answer in there somewhere?)
Rookie Evan Rodriguez, based on his preseason showing, appeared on track to fill that pass-catching role. Then he was converted to fullback. Now, the Bears believe they have a capable downfield and red-zone tight end threat in Davis. Yet Davis would be the first to say he has quite a ways to go to reach the likes of Gonzalez and Gronkowski. (If you ask me Tice is making a mess out of this spot on his offense because he doesn't know what to do with these guys. His specialty as a TE was as a blocker not a pass catcher and that what he thinks of first when he thinks TE. The way he's been misusing ERod proves that. This has to change before we'll see any improvement in how these guys compliment others in the passing game)
What's in a name?
Davis never watched much pro football growing up in Adrian, Mich., but he was aware of the guy his parents named him for: Kellen Winslow Sr. "I think my parents just liked his name,'' Davis said. "It's not like they were big fans.''
Winslow, who played his entire career with the Chargers, is a Hall of Famer and went to the Pro Bowl five times. The Bears don't expect Davis to duplicate those accomplishments, but they continue to have high expectations for the former fifth-round draft pick from Michigan State.
"How do I become more of a weapon? We just have to get some more looks,'' Davis said. "That just means us making more plays for Jay. We do it all week in practice. Just have to translate that to the game field.'' (Yeah well then try catching the ball next time he throws to you on a key third down play and you may get more looks. It was right in your hands. That drop was a big momentum killer.)
Davis, who openly griped about his role under Martz, re-signed with the Bears this offseason with visions of being a primary target in Mike Tice's revamped offense. He currently is the Bears fifth-leading receiver with nine catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. Davis has been targeted 20 times. (Nine catches in 20 targets is a completion rate of just 45%. You aren't gonna do much damage with numbers like that)
The Bears see a 6-foot-7, 262-pound athlete capable of taking advantage of the attention Marshall attracts. Critics see a guy who dropped three balls in the first six games, including a bad drop against the Lions on Monday night. (Right now the critics are winning and I'm one of them. For the $3 mil per year your getting we need to see a lot more out of you than this)
Former Bears tight end Desmond Clark, who was a Pro Bowl alternate one season, believes Martz's scheme set all the tight ends back, including Davis. "I think his offense ruined the whole tight end position for the Bears,'' Clark said. "From 2006-09 were all good years for tight ends as a group. Year in and year out, we were in the top 5, top 10 in catches and touchdowns. (Yeah I'd agree with you and it hasn't been repaired yet even with four TEs on the roster. You were the last good receiving/blocking TE we had Des. Chalk just one more screw up to Martz.)
"And then once Mike (Martz) got there, the emphasis wasn't there. You saw tight end go from a strength of the team to a (weakness). And it wasn't necessarily because of the personnel. It was about the emphasis.'' (Exactly and it would have made no difference if Tony Gonzales would have been playing TE under Martz he wouldn't have done shit either)
Nevertheless, Davis understands his shortcomings. Last week, he spent time catching passes from rookie quarterback Matt Blanchard after Thursday's practice. (Get the "Jugs" machine out Kellen. It helped Tim Jennings so it'll probably help you too.)
Tight ends coach Mike DeBord says he hasn't lost in faith in Davis. "He has to do a better job catching,'' DeBord said. "But Kellen's going to do nothing but get better and better. There's going to be a day when he just breaks loose.'' (Yeah and we're waiting for that day. Hopefully it will come somtime this decade.)
Ditka marvels over the evolution at tight end since his playing days.
"When you go back to my days, the ball was only thrown in a game about 22 times,'' Ditka said. "The majority of the time, we were running the football. We had guys like Gale Sayers. We had guys like Willie Galimore. Are you kidding me, Sayers? We had good running backs so hell, it wasn't about throwing to Mike Ditka.''
Regardless, Ditka was credited for transforming the tight end spot from a third tackle to a receiving position. His 427 career catches were the most for a tight end until Winslow broke the mark in 1980.
"Coach (George) Halas really understood what the potential of the position was,'' Ditka said. "What they decided to do was make the tight end a focal point of the offense. We had Johnny Morris outside. We had John Farrington on the other side and we had me at tight end. Teams couldn't play the defense they wanted to play if you started throwing the ball to the tight end. (Yep it tends to make them use a LB or Safety to cover him which means what? No more 8 men in the box and more room to run. So how long will it take for Tice to figure out that there's one less guy for his TE to block once he takes him away from the line and into coverage?)
"Then the other thing that happened was I had a quarterback named Billy Wade who loved to throw me the football. That made me feel good.''
As coach of the Bears from 1982-92, Ditka wanted more physical play than finesse at the position. Emery Moorehead was a combination of both and had 42 catches in 1983 — the most for any tight end during Ditka's tenure.
Ditka couldn't imagine one of his tight ends catching 90 passes, as the Saints' Jimmy Graham and the Patriots' Gronkowski did in 2012. Ditka, himself, caught 75 in 1964.
"These guys are like power forwards in the NBA,'' Ditka said. "They're 6-5, 6-6, they are 260 pounds, and they can run. These are big dudes who can move. Tight end has evolved into more of a receiving position, period.
"You always need the tight end as part of the play-action pass. But are the Bears better off with a pass-catching tight end with three receivers who can catch the ball? Only their coaching staff knows that. But I would say no.'' (Well right now we're only playing two who can catch the ball so maybe we should rethink this. The lack of a TE in the pattern may also be why we see far less play action than we should)
Cutler simply would be a lot happier with such a weapon at his disposal. (He has the weapons but it's up to Tice and DeBord to see that their cocked, loaded and aimed)