- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Versatility and fit for the new scheme expected to be employed by new offensive coordinator Mike Tice trumped character red flags Saturday, when the Chicago Bears selected former Temple tight end Evan Rodriguez with their fourth-round pick (111th overall).
Bears general manager Phil Emery extolled Rodriguez’s potential as a “move tight end,” adding the new rookie’s off-the-field problems have come as the result of issues with “maturity, more than any single factor.”
“I’m very glad to have drafted Evan Rodriguez, and have Evan become a Chicago Bear,” Emery said. “Right role, right fit for the player and team; we see Evan as a combination of a fullback and an F tight end (primarily a receiving tight end). As we analyzed our team needs, we really felt that we had a defined need with the system changes that coach Tice will bring in terms of having a vertical tight end, somebody that could challenge the inside of the defensive structure of our opponent.”
Upon taking the job as Chicago’s GM, Emery came away from his initial analysis of the roster and anticipated changes on offense that the Bears needed to add multiple weapons for quarterback Jay Cutler. Emery believes the acquisitions of Brandon Marshall, second-round pick Alshon Jeffery and Rodriguez accomplish that objective.
“We feel good about where we’re at in that process.”
Often compared to New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez by people in the scouting community, Rodriguez (6-1 1/2, 239 pounds) flashes sufficient speed (4.56-second 40-yard dash) to stretch defenses, but the Bears feel they acquired even more in terms of a fit for what they want to do offensively.
At Temple, Rodriguez caught 69 passes for 871 yards and seven touchdowns in three seasons. Despite Rodriguez’s ability to play multiple positions, Emery said he’ll focus strictly on tight end with the Bears.
“I’m versatile; you can just put me in any situation,” Rodriguez said.
That’s precisely what the team plans to do. Although the Bears classify Rodriguez as a move tight end, what they found appealing was the fact he’s an efficient enough blocker to lead up on linebackers whenever those situations arise, giving them an ability to leave him on the field when they deploy base personnel. Emery explained that by doing that, it forces defenses to remain in their base sets “instead of bringing in nickel and sub package personnel and trying to match up with a straight receiving tight end.”
That, in turn, makes for a mismatch with the opponent trying to use linebackers to cover the speedy Rodriguez. That also explains, in part, why the Bears chose Rodriguez at 111 overall despite the availability of Orson Charles, who fits the mold of a Y tight end (primarily a base blocking player; a classic tight end so to speak).
In conducting background investigations on Rodriguez, the team put together a performance profile report in which “out of all the tight ends, this guy scores higher than anybody,” Emery said. “He's a nine out of 10."
But the GM acknowledged Rodriguez’s character concerns. Rodriguez started his college career at West Virginia in 2007, but transferred to Temple after he reportedly had a felony assault charge reduced to a misdemeanor disturbance and trespassing charge stemming from an alleged physical altercation with a female residence hall advisor.
In 2009, Rodriguez was reportedly arrested for disorderly conduct, and in 2010, he was suspended for a game for breaking an unspecified team rule.
Despite Emery seeing “him play at least four times in the last two years,” the general manager deployed running backs coach Tim Spencer to Temple to work out Rodriguez. They also brought him in to Halas Hall to speak extensively about some of the character concerns, according to Emery.
Afterward, Tice followed up with a more extensive look at the tight end.
“Everybody in this building has spent quality time on him,” Emery said. “You never really know exactly who they are until they get into your building. What we felt very good about Evan is he’s a tough, physical guy. Some players you have to put your thumb on a little bit harder. I think Evan responds to really good, hard, old-fashioned coaching.
“To find this guy in the fourth round, is a good find for the Bears.”