Rookie Evan Rodriguez could be key to Bears’ tight end woes
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org
Lovie Smith won’t lie about it: He knows the Bears’ offense desperately needs someone to step up and help receiver Brandon Marshall. He knows he’s missing another difference-maker.
“Someone does [need to step up],” Smith said. “Brandon has played outstanding ball, but we do. We had a few opportunities [Sunday] night where we dropped a couple of balls that could have been big plays for us.
“But, yes, getting Alshon Jeffery back [from a broken hand] should help a little bit, too. But, yeah, we need to get more production out of that two-slot.”
But what about more production from the tight ends, too?
Surely, some of those dropped balls Smith alluded to were tight end Kellen Davis’. He had a forgettable game against the Houston Texans that included two drops and a fumble.
Perhaps it’s time to give another rookie a chance to make a difference. Maybe it’s finally time to see what Evan Rodriguez can do when he’s running routes and not running into linebackers as a lead blocker.
Are the Bears sold on Rodriguez solely being a fullback?
‘‘Just because of the situation that we have [with three other tight ends], he’s going to be a fullback right now,” tight ends coach Mike DeBord said recently. “But can he go back to tight end? Yes, he could. But I don’t know when that might be or anything like that. He could at some time.”
To be fair, the Bears don’t use their tight ends in the passing game as much as other teams do. Matt Spaeth, in particular, is adept at blocking. But overall, it’s also fair to say the Bears envisioned more production.
Davis, Spaeth and Kyle Adams have combined for 18 catches, 189 yards and two touchdowns in nine games. Thirty-five tight ends have accounted for more receiving yards individually this season.
A few weeks ago, Davis was praised for his leaping touchdown grab against the Carolina Panthers. Now, he’s hearing boos from the faithful. All the Bears want is consistency from Davis, who has seen more plays than Spaeth and Adams combined.
There are some pass-catching tight ends available on the free-agent market. But are veterans
Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow Jr. — or even Donald Lee and Bo Scaife — worth the time, money, injury concerns or potential damage to team chemistry?
Again, the solution already might be in the Bears’ locker room, wearing No. 48.
Rodriguez was drafted as a tight end out of Temple with the 111th pick and drew comparisons to the New England Patriots’ Aaron Hernandez, a big-time receiving threat. Rodriguez had 69 receptions for 871 yards and seven touchdowns at Temple and was a two-time All-Mid-American Conference selection.
According to Pro Football Focus, Rodriguez has been on the field for 64 plays this season as a fullback — 47 of them being runs. He missed two games with a sprained MCL and also didn’t play against the Detroit Lions and Panthers despite being active.
The Bears probably didn’t want to rush his development, but the offense could use some help right now. If Rodriguez was able to win them over enough with his blocking at fullback to start in Week 1, it’s worth a serious look at practice to see whether he can handle more.