- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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Seemingly every offseason discussion in recent years hits on the need to add a pass catcher at tight end for the Chicago Bears.
It's uncertain whether the new coaching staff views the position as a need in free agency or the upcoming draft, but what's clear is the plan in 2013 to step into the modern age of tight end play.
"The days of the tight end being a down blocker and a flat runner are really gone," said new Bears tight ends coach Andy Bischoff. "If you have that guy, you better get somebody else eventually because those days are really gone."
That's not to say the tenure of any of the club's tight ends is coming to an end anytime soon, but Bischoff made it abundantly clear their roles will change significantly with the implementation of the new offensive scheme by head coach Marc Trestman. In each of the past two seasons Chicago's tight ends ranked at the bottom of the league in receptions.
Perhaps that's about to change.
"We need a tight end that can threaten the defense. We need a tight end that can create stress in the middle of the field or wherever we place him because we're gonna line him up next to the tackle," Bischoff said. "We're gonna line him up outside the numbers. We're gonna line up in the backfield, and we're gonna expect the defense to figure it out. So we need a receiver who can catch the ball, and we need a receiver who can block enough to be lined up in the backfield if we put him there.
"So in answering your question, yeah, absolutely we need a tight end that can catch the ball. The days of the tight end that blocked and ran flat routes in this league are coming to an end. The guys that just run 3-yard flat routes, that's not gonna do anything for you."
Having served as the running backs coach for Trestman over the past five years with the Montreal Alouettes, Bischoff explained that because of the way rosters are structured in the Canadian Football League that tight end is "not often a position that you see an American playing." It doesn't appear the position is used much at all in the CFL.
A quick search of Trestman's last three seasons in the CFL revealed the team didn't use tight ends, but that's not uncommon in the CFL. Most offensive formations include two receivers, two slotbacks, a running back, fullback and five linemen in addition to the quarterback for a total of 12 players.
Still, the difference in the NFL and CFL won't inhibit the ability of the new staff to put together a scheme placing more emphasis on the tight end position. After all, new Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer did work with tight end Jimmy Graham in New Orleans. Graham is coming off an 85-catch season in 2012, while Chicago's group of tight ends, which consists of Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth, Kyle Adams and Evan Rodriguez, a rookie last season, has combined for 58 catches over the last two years.
Does that mean Chicago's current roster of tight ends can't get the job done? Not necessarily. Extensively studying tape from the 2012 season, the coaching staff is still trying to make that determination.
"I think it's hard to compare the systems (from 2012 and what the team will use in 2013)," Bischoff said. "What we see very clearly on film is effort. You can work with effort. Then you have to spend more time in the evaluation process, and truly see if those skills match what our skillset needs to be. But it's early for that. The exciting part is you see effort."
That won't be enough given the skillset the Bears crave for the next incarnation of the offense.
"You need to have a guy who's dynamic and athletic. Yes, you need a blocker. But you can package your system with enough diversity and balance to be able to create a lot of stress," Bischoff said. "You're gonna hear those words from our staff a lot. Our offense is really centered on bringing the best players we can, and putting the most stress on the defense at every level of the field. That's what we want to do with our tight ends and everyone else."