About the only person not making a big deal about tight end Greg Olsen's role in Mike Martz's offense is Olsen himself.
Olsen led the Bears last season with 60 receptions and eight touchdowns, but Martz's offenses have rarely utilized the tight end to that extent.
In Martz's seven years with the Rams, the first season as the offensive coordinator and the next six as head coach, no tight end ever caught more than 38 passes and all the tight ends combined never caught more than 50 passes in one season.
The Bears' new offensive coordinator has mainly used the tight end as an extra blocker in the run game or pass protector. So when the Bears signed 6-2, 295-pound blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna early in free agency, Olsen's demise was widely anticipated. Either he would be traded or his role as a pass catcher would be drastically reduced, according to the doomsday predictors.
But there was Olsen Wednesday afternoon at Halas Hall in the first of 14 OTA (organized team activity) practices sprinting down the field catching lasers from Jay Cutler as a member of the first team, often in the same personnel package as fellow tight end Desmond Clark. Manumaleuna has been limited to individual running drills on the sideline since his recent minor arthroscopic knee surgery. Olsen is not worried about his place on the team.
"I've addressed this a million times," he said. "I feel good the way things have gone so far, and it's early in the process, but so far everything's been great."
But will it remain that way? Olsen will be asked to block more and more effectively than in the past, and he may never be an 80-catch guy, as had been predicted when he was drafted in the first round in 2007. But Olsen doesn't seem worried. It's still football, and Martz has said that the 6-5, 255-pound former Miami Hurricane presents a receiving threat at tight end he never had in St. Louis.
TE Greg Olsen
AP Images: Nam Y. Huh
"Sometimes you focus your offense around what you've got," Olsen said. "In the past, [Martz] has had great wide receivers and great backs. It's the same here, but we feel like we have a couple tight ends who can do some stuff in the passing game along with those other guys. So we'll see how that works out. We feel good that he can kind of make it work to whatever his players' strengths are, and that's something that they continue to hit on."
As for the blocking, that's something Olsen knows wasn't a strength coming out of college, but he continues to work to improve that aspect of his game.
"It's been part of the program every single offseason, and each year I've gotten better," he said. "This year is no different, regardless of all that's happened. Every offseason we work hard at it, and that's not going to change."
NOTES AND QUOTES
Martz is amused at all the questions he gets regarding his relationship with Cutler.
Both have been described as strong-willed, stubborn and opinionated. But anyone expecting a destructive clash of personalities has so far been disappointed.
"That tickles me," Martz said when asked recently how he and his quarterback were getting along. "I love this 'Jay Watch' kind of thing. But it's crazy, because he's everything you want as a coach. He's all about winning and about perfection. He wants to be a great player, and he wants to be on a great team. For me, there's no problem. I don't know what the issues have been in the past. I don't really care what they are. We connected right away and I think the world of him, both as a player and as a man. I'm very pleased with him."
For now, it's all good in Martz's world as he continues the installation of his offense, which includes throwing the ball to specific areas rather than to specific players. That's new to Cutler, but he's caught on quickly.
"He hasn't done that before," Martz said. "I guess normally it's an adjustment, [but] if it was for him, it didn't take him very long because he's done it right away. That ball comes out of [his hand] long before the receiver comes out of the cut. That's kind of who he is, a guy who can get rid of the ball that quick and see things as well as he does." ...
Martz doesn't see the point in rehashing the 2009 season with Cutler, who threw a league-high 26 interceptions along with 27 TD passes.
"We're not running last year's offense, so it doesn't make much difference to me what they did last year," Martz said. "I could care less. It has no bearing because whatever he's done in the past has no bearing on today for me. It's a clean slate."
Martz preferred to start at square one with Cutler.
"It started with him how he stands underneath the center, how his hands are, the cadence, like he was a high school quarterback," Martz said. "I've always believed that's what you do. That's how you start, and he's still a very young quarterback. Whatever happened in the past, no matter how good he played, I don't care. It has no bearing on anything today." ...
Third-round draft pick Major Wright, a 5-11, 206-pound safety out of Florida was the Bears' top pick this year, but he has a long way to go before he challenges for a starting job.
Chris Harris and Danieal Manning lined up with the starters at free and strong safety, respectively, during minicamp, but the Bears believe Wright can eventually compete for a starting job, possibly as soon as this season.
"Major Wright was one of the players we liked from the start," coach Lovie Smith said, referring to pre-draft evaluations. "We spent a lot of time with him. [Defensive backs coach] Jon Hoke went down and worked him out within the last week or so [leading up to the draft]. At the combine, every time we had a chance to evaluate him as a player, we liked what we came back with."
Smith called Wright a "high-character guy," and said, "He's going to bring a lot of energy to our defense. He's a big hitter and has good skills as far as coverages are concerned. We're going to put him at free safety and see what he can do." ...
Bears chief contract negotiator Cliff Stein set a May 28 goal for signing all five of the team's draft picks, and he made it barely under the wire when Wright signed a four-year contract last Friday.
With Wright's signing, the Bears are the first NFL team to have all their draft picks signed for the fifth consecutive year and are the first team in league history to have all of their draft picks signed prior to the end of May.
They didn't have selections in the first and second round.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"We have to have more takeaways. It's as simple as that. We feel like we are going to be able to score some points, but you've got to get the ball back. That is the No. 1 goal of our defense: to get the takeaways and then score." – Coach Lovie Smith, whose Bears teams have forced the most turnovers (200) in the NFL since he took over in 2004, but they had just 28 last season and only 13 interceptions.
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