By Bryan Dietzler
Training camp 2017 is finally here, and there is a lot happening across the NFL and with the Bears right now. The Bears are working hard at shaping a team that we hope will win more games in 2017. We want a team that will keep fans on the edge of their seats. Can the Bears provide us with that this year? There people out there who are looking forward to a new season in Chicago and more wins. And if this team can put everything together and their talent can gel, they will win more games in 2017.
Chicago has had some good tight ends in the past. There was the best of the bunch, Mike Ditka. A little more recently, there were guys like Emery Moorhead and Desmond Clark. They helped to stabilize the position. Greg Olsen, if we can remember who he is (ha ha) is a more recent player who did well at the position for Chicago.
At the time of this writing, the Bears have six players at the tight end position heading into training camp. Some are old faces while others are new to the team. There is a lot of talent at this position but very little room to have too many of these guys on the team. I predict that Chicago will only keep four tight ends this season. The only locks are Dion Sims and Adam Shaheen. What about the rest of the guys? What do they have to offer?
We will take an abbreviated look at the tight ends that the Bears have on the roster at the time of this writing. Let’s explore who should make the team and who won’t.
Braunecker came to the Bears last season and started participating in games immediately. He played in 13 games catching four passes for 41 yards and no touchdowns. His size and speed are good, but he still has a lot to learn to be an NFL tight end. But with just two years of experience, there is still some room to grow.
Outlook: Consider Braunecker, a bubble player whose arrow is pointing up. While he may not be starter material, he is a pretty nice backup and can stand in when needed. I think he has an excellent chance to make the roster and be with the Bears during the season.
Daniel Brown is a three-year player who came to the Bears via the Baltimore Ravens last season. He played in six games and caught 16 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown. He was a nice add on for the Bears and helped stabilize the position after the loss of Martellus Bennett and the injury to Zach Miller. In fact, Brown started three games giving the Bears’ quarterbacks an extra outlet to throw the ball too.
Outlook: Here is another guy that should be able to make the roster with a strong training camp. Chicago’s young tight ends are very talented and may push the older guys out. I think that Brown has an excellent chance of staying on as a backup and will contribute greatly in 2017. But that’s with a strong camp.
I am a huge fan of Zach Miller. I like the guy, and I think he is talented, but he is in serious jeopardy of not making this team. He is one injury away from not being a Bear, and because of his injury history, Chicago may not want to risk using a roster spot him. In fact, they may sacrifice him so that one of the younger guys does not get away.
Outlook: Zach Miller is very good when he is healthy, but he is a serious injury risk. Knowing this, the Bears are going to be very careful with him in training camp. If they feel he isn’t going to make it through a full set of games this season, then they will let him walk. The young talent at tight end is too good, and Miller is just too unpredictable. I think he gets cut at the end of camp.
Pruitt is a two-year player out of Southern Illinois. The Bears brought him from Minnesota where he spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Chicago saw something in him that piqued their interest. While he was in Minnesota, Pruitt played in 17 games with three starts and caught a few passes but not many. Coming out of college, it was thought that he had a lot of talent as a tight end and could develop into a starter. But that hasn’t happened yet.
Outlook: He is a guy that we will have to see how he does in training camp to get a good perspective on his status. He has talent but does he have more than the other youngsters at the position? Probably not. Chicago may decide to keep him on the practice squad and that’s where he probably will end up.
This year’s second round draft pick is poised to make an impact in his first year in the league. From what I hear, the Bears like him and he just might be the top end tight end they have been looking for. But he has a steep learning curve because, after coming from a Division II program, the step up in competition will be big. But if he can adjust, he could be one of the top ten tight ends in the NFL in the future.
Outlook: There is no question that he will make the final roster. But will he start? He is going to have to have a pretty strong training camp in order do that. But anything is possible with this kid. If he doesn’t start then, he will be the number two tight end. I do suspect he will have his growing pains this year but will end up starting in 2018.
He’s going to be very good in the future.
Sims is a high priced free agent acquisition, formerly of the Miami Dolphins, that Chicago acquired this spring. He did not put up spectacular numbers at Miami. During his career there, he caught just 74 passes for 699 yards and eight touchdowns. That is not number one tight end production. And keep in mind that the Bears paid him money that would make it look like he was a top tier tight end. So they are expecting big things out of him.
Outlook: I don’t think that there is any doubt that Sims makes the roster because of the money that they are going to have to pay him if they cut him. With that in mind, consider him a lock to make the team. But does he start? That decision may come down to (and I hate to say this) money. I have observed that Sims is a good blocker so perhaps the Bears might be thinking of using him as a blocker more than a pass catcher. Either way, expect to see a lot of him this season.