The Chicago Bears used a fourth-round pick to draft Evan Rodriguez thinking he’d quickly develop into the quintessential “move” or “F” tight end that would add to the growing arsenal of the team’s evolving offense.
Certainly, Rodriguez flashed glimpses of that during the rookie minicamp at Halas Hall. But there’s still plenty of work left for the rookie, based on what appeared to be an up-and-down showing during three practice sessions in which he was arguably outshined by tryout player Brandon Venson, who impressed the staff enough to sign him to a contract after minicamp.
“It went pretty good,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been out of it a long time. I mean this was one long offseason.”
That showed throughout workouts, but it’s important to point out Rodriguez definitely improved over the course of three days. On Day 1, Rodriguez slipped running routes on several occasions and appeared to become sluggish as the workout progressed.
Rodriguez also struggled to catch the ball at times, dropping several passes hitting him in both hands. Given the stiff learning curve -- whether schematically or simply transitioning into the pace of an NFL workout -- faced by all rookies, the coaching staff isn’t overly concerned with how Rodriguez fared.
“He started out real nicely,” Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said after the first workout. “We ran a lot of routes there today. He got a little sluggish and bounced back. He’s got good hands, good quickness. The things we thought he was on tape: he is. He’s also a good blocker. We’re happy to have a true, different type of tight end, or an F-tight end.”
Rodriguez should know the job won’t simply be handed to him. Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth likely will receive the majority of the snaps in 2012, and Rodriguez will compete for the role of “F” tight end with Kyle Adams, who was undrafted in 2011, but caught 79 passes for 660 yards at Purdue and is highly regarded by the staff.
Based on the success of tight ends around the league such as New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, New England’s Aaron Hernandez, and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis, Rodriguez believes the current time is as good as any to be a tight end in the NFL.
Statistically, the Bears receiving corps ranked among the league’s worst last season. The receivers ranked 28th or worse in receptions, catch percentage, drop percentage and first-down percentage on throws of 10 air yards or fewer last season, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Although the Bears added weapons at the position through the draft and free agency, they also had the foresight to try to alleviate some of the pressure on the receivers by bringing in a tight end capable of posing matchup problems for defenses on passing downs.
“This is definitely a time to be hyped up to be a tight end in the NFL,” Rodriguez said. “Things have changed a lot for the position, and now we can go out there and do a whole lot to help a team win. I can be one of those, sure.”
But Rodriguez isn’t yet quite ready. His performance at rookie minicamp made that apparent.
“We started the process,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said after Rodriguez’s first workout. “But we think in time he’s going to be a pretty good football player in the league.”