Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011
By John Mullin
The position that Mike Martz never had a lot of time for in the past is suddenly perhaps nothing short of a bellwether for Bears fortunes.
The Bears are 7-0 this season when a tight end catches a touchdown pass. Six of the wins came in the regular season, including the first Green Bay game. The seventh was in the divisional win over Seattle when Kellen Davis and Greg Olsen caught scoring throws of 39 and 58 yards, respectively.
No tight end in a Mike Martz offense ever caught more passes in a single season than Ernie Conwells 38 for the 2001 St. Louis Rams. No tight end in a Martz offense ever caught more than Conwells four that season.
In one Chicago season, Martzs tight ends, the position that the incoming coordinator was expected to relegate to insignificance, have done away with those highs.
Not bad for a position that was addressed in the offseason but with a player (Brandon Manumaleuna) more akin to a guard than a receiver, a hint about what Martz had planned for the position. If Davis, Olsen and even seldom-used Desmond Clark had doubts, they have more than played through them.
There really wasnt much history of Martz and tight ends really to rely on, Olsen said. But I was confident that if I just continued to do what I do, that there would be a place for me and there has been a role and a pretty prominent one.
Coach Martz has said all along that the guys who make plays and do what theyre asked to do are going to play and thats the mentality, the approach weve all taken.
Quality over quantity
It has not been all good all year for tight ends vs. the recent past.
The four tight ends combined for 53 catches and nine touchdowns this season. Olsen alone had 60 catches and 8 touchdowns last season. The group yardage total was 633; Olsen netted 612 last season.
Indeed, the position was not as integral a part of the offense as it was under Ron Turner. West Coast systems traditionally make far more extensive use of tight ends than Martzs more vertical system. Green Bay has hurt the Bears under two regimes with the likes of Mark Chmura, Bubba Franks and last year Jermicheal Finley.
But Olsens 39-yard touchdown catch was the turning point of the Dallas game. Davis one catch of the regular season was for a touchdown in the first Minnesota game and put the Vikings down by two scores in the crucial closing minutes.
Davis has 12 career catches. Five of them have ended up in the end zone.
A little skill and a lot of luck, Davis said, laughing. When If Jay Cutler is on point, whoevers open is going to get the ball.
The Bears kept four tight ends on the 53-man roster for the first time in recent memory and had all four active for five games, including the first Green Bay game.
Vernon Davis, who has caught 20 touchdown passes for the 49ers in the two seasons since Martz left San Francisco, caught just 31 passes and scored two touchdowns under Martz. Conwell scored once every 9.5 times he caught a pass in his best Martz season.
Bears tight ends produced a touchdown once every 5.9 receptions this season.
Martz, you crazy old tight end, you
Martz isnt anti-tight-end, certainly after the group under position coach Mike DeBord has acquitted itself so decisively in game situations. He may in fact relate particularly to Manumaleuna.
I used to play tight end, Martz said of his college time at Cal-Santa Barbara. I probably was more like a guard, but I did, I played tight end. I love that position.
The Bears elected to keep the four tight ends and leave fullbacks out of their 2010 roster plans. While Manumaleuna is a blocker first, the roster decision forced Olsen to become more of a blocker or lose playing time.
Even though Olsens career took a dip after seasons of 39-54-60 catches his first year, the result of 2010 has been the development of what is now arguably one of the NFCs better all-around tight ends.
Weve asked all our tight ends to take turns at that position of fullback so that takes away from the down-the-field type of thing wed like Greg to do at times, too, Martz said. But hes done so many great things for us that allow us to do those things.
Unselfishly, hes been willing to do that so we can run the ball so much better. He leads in there. Hes at the point of attack as a tight end. We put him out there as a wide receiver.
Olsen was a receiver who has made himself a serviceable blocker. Davis was a blocker who can function as a receiver in a pass-first scheme.
Davis was a little indecisive, Martz said. He wasnt quite sure what we were doing but where he has been the last three weeks or so has been very encouraging and allows us to include him more.
And not all the learning has been on the players side of the meeting room.
I think Martz realized that we can add some production to the offense, Davis said, and hes worked us in there.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information