Tight ends in focus

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We've already revealed our plans to follow the suddenly dynamic quarterbacking in the NFC North this season. (We're calling it "Air and Space.") But Wednesday's Emerging Stars feature brought to mind another vibrant position in the Black and Blue.

All four teams have intriguing new or developing talent at tight end. They might not reach Pro Bowl levels in a conference that now includes Tony Gonzalez (Atlanta), Jason Witten (Dallas) and Chris Cooley (Washington). But I think we have a pretty bright future with these guys nevertheless.

Let's take an introductory look and then follow their progress throughout the season. (As always, catchy name suggestions are welcomed here. I've taken your advice already on a number of occasions.)


Chicago Bears
Player: Greg Olsen
Age: 24
2008 performance: 54 receptions, 574 yards, five touchdowns
Reason for optimism: He's been elevated to starter status, he has strong chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears have no obvious No. 1 receiver.


Detroit Lions
Player: Brandon Pettigrew
Age: 24
2008 performance: 42 receptions, 472 yards (Oklahoma State)
Reason for optimism: The Lions drafted him No. 20 overall because they believe he is a dominant blocker and has the athleticism to be a weapon in the passing game. When healthy, he's an instant starter.


Green Bay Packers
Player: Jermichael Finley
Age: 22
2008 performance: six receptions, 74 yards, one touchdown
Reason for optimism: He's made dramatic strides in understanding the offense and has the pass-catching skills (and speed) of a receiver.


Minnesota Vikings
Player: Visanthe Shiancoe
Age: 29
2008 performance: 42 receptions, 596 yards, seven touchdowns
Reason for optimism: He has overcome shaky hands to be a legitimate downfield weapon. Figures to benefit from attention directed elsewhere in the Vikings' offense.