This off-season, the Chicago Bears hired Aaron Kromer to be their offensive coordinator. Kromer spent the last four seasons with the New Orleans Saints, where he watched tight end Jimmy Graham shred defenses as a receiver.
Now with the Bears, Kromer will attempt to implement the same passing attack that helped Graham become one of the NFL’s elite tight ends.
“We’ve utilized the tight end in this offense quite often,” Kromer said. “We’d surely like to be able to throw the football to them. We’d like them to be able to block somewhat in the running game. They’re not going to be an offensive lineman blocking but definitely the more weapons you have the better off you are.”
The biggest problem that Kromer faces as he takes the reins in Chicago is the lack of field-stretching tight ends currently on the roster. The No. 1 tight end, Kellen Davis, is a reliable receiving option, but has failed to consistently assert himself as a threat as of late. Behind him on the depth chart, the Bears offer little else in the way of pass-catchers from the tight end spot.
While many NFL teams have enjoyed astronomical production from their tight ends in recent years, the Bears have yet to catch up to the modern approach to the position. During the last two seasons, Chicago has had the fewest receptions by tight ends of any team in the league. Last year, all four of the Bears’ tight ends – Davis, Matt Spaeth, Kyle Adams, Evan Rodriguez – combined for 58 catches. There were 11 individual tight ends throughout the NFL that hauled in more passes than that in 2012.
Although Davis has been a solid receiver for the Bears, the rest of the depth chart offers nothing more than blockers. Spaeth and Adams are big, physical tight ends who are better used in-line than out running routes. Rodriguez, a fullback/tight end hybrid, is decent with the ball in his hands, but is bruiser built for blocking.
“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.”
Unless the Bears can turn their trio of blocking tight ends into a field-stretching threesome, they’re going to have to find some other options to help get the passing game where Kromer wants it to be. Whether it happens via free agency or the 2013 NFL Draft, something needs to change.
“We need a receiver that can threaten the defense,” Kromer explained. “We need a tight end that can create stress in the middle of the field, or wherever we place him, because we’re going to line him up next to the tackle and we’re going to line him up outside the numbers and we’re going to line him up in the backfield and we’re going to expect the defense to figure it out.”
Kromer has big plans for the Chicago offense in 2013, and a receiving tight end is going to be a key to its success. Unless he feels that Davis is the answer, the Bears will have to find a new target for quarterback Jay Cutler to throw to. One way or another, expect Chicago tight ends to find their way out of this recent rut.