Bears Positional Battles: Tight End

Steve Maneri (David Banks/USA TODAY)

We dissect the current competition for Chicago's second and third tight end spots, a positional battle that features players of varying skill sets.

The Chicago Bears had high expectations for tight end Kellen Davis last year. With former offensive coordinator Mike Martz's retirement and the subsequent promotion of Mike Tice to OC, the belief was that Davis would shine given more targets.

Unfortunately for both him and the Bears, that never happened. In 2011, in a Martz passing offense that basically ignored the tight ends, Davis has 18 catches for 206 yards, but still contributed near the end zone with five touchdown grabs. Last season under Tice, he finished with just 19 catches for 229 yards, with just two TD receptions. In essence, he got worse after Martz left.

According to Pro Football Focus, Davis' drop percentage was the second worst of any tight end in the league in 2012. His inability to be a weapon in the middle of the field, as well as the inconsistencies at wide receiver, resulted in Brandon Marshall being the second most-targeted player in the league last season, behind only Detroit's Calvin Johnson.

That obviously is not good enough for head coach Marc Trestman, who is installing a brand new, pass-heavy, west-coast system. As such, Davis was released and the team spent big money in free agency signing Martellus Bennett, who last year caught 55 passes for 626 yards and 5 TDs as a member of the New York Giants.

Bennett has shown playmaking ability as a receiver and is also an accomplished blocker, serving for four years as the blocking tight behind Jason Witten for the Dallas Cowboys. The belief is that Bennett can be both the blocking and pass-catching tight end, which explains why the Bears also released Matt Spaeth, the club's edge blocker the past two seasons.

Yet Bennett can't do it all by himself and Trestman has used numerous two-tight-end sets this offseason. With that in mind, we break down the players vying for Chicago's second and third tight end spots.

The Frontrunners

Steve Maneri (6-7, 280) 4th year
Maneri played tight end at Temple but was used mainly as a blocker and never caught more than 14 passes in a season. After going undrafted in 2010, he moved to offensive tackle for the New England Patriots, yet moved back to tight end with the Kansas City Chiefs the past two years. Similar to college, he has been used as a blocker in 19 NFL games, with just six career catches for 52 yards. He's a cheaper version of Spaeth but the Bears obviously see something in him, as he was one of only three free agents signed to a multi-year deal this offseason – Bennett and offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod were the other two. Maneri is signed through 2014, so obviously the coaching staff feels he brings a lot of value as an edge blocker.

Fendi Onobun (6-6, 260) 4th year
Onobun was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 draft by the St. Louis but has bounced around the league since then, playing for five different clubs that past three seasons. He was a basketball player for four years at the University of Arizona and didn't join the Houston Cougars football team until 2009. Coming into the league, he was extremely raw, which explains why he has yet to suit up for an NFL game. Yet during the recent minicamps, Onobun has looked outstanding and has taken plenty of reps with the first team. It appears he may have finally figured out how to play football, which could pay big dividends for the Bears. He's nearly as big as Bennett and shows similar pass-catching ability down the seams. He's still rough around the edges but of all the tight ends vying for a roster spot this offseason, Onobun by far has the most upside.

The Wildcard

Kyle Adams (6-4, 255) 3rd year
Adams first joined the Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and has stuck around as the club's No. 3 tight end. He has served mainly in the H-back role, playing a bit of fullback and tight end. Adams is a good football player and deserves to be in the NFL but he doesn't do anything great. He's solid in every area of his game but he doesn't truly excel at anything. He'll be on the bubble during training camp and the preseason, and will need to convince Trestman the team needs four tight ends on the roster in 2013. Given his overall skill set, there's a good chance Adams will do just that.

Long Shots

Brody Eldridge (6-5, 265) 4th year
The Bears signed Eldridge in mid October last season, waived him a month later and then re-signed him in January. He's a prototypical H-back – he started as guard, tackle, center, fullback and tight end in college – and was drafted in the fifth round by the Indianapolis Colts. He is considered one of the better blocking tight ends in the league but his four-game suspension last year for violating the league's substance abuse policy led to his dismissal from the St. Louis Rams' roster. The Bears gladly snatched him up and will let him compete with Maneri for the edge blocker role.

Gabe Miller (6-3, 257) 3rd year
Miller – a former 2011 fifth-round pick of the Chiefs, when Phil Emery was Kansas City's director of college scouting – was signed to Chicago's practice squad late last season. Miller played defensive end at Oregon State and was a very productive pass rusher alongside current Bears starter Stephen Paea. He has outstanding athleticism but his lack of a true position has hurt him at the pro level. He has yet to play in a meaningful NFL game and will struggle to do so with the Bears as well.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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