This is the fourth in a series of Bears position breakdowns by the Chicago Football staff leading up to the start of training camp July 25 in Bourbonnais. For more Bears and NFL coverage, visit ChicagoFootball.com.
Today: Tight ends
Overview: The Bears can feel good about their decision to spend big at tight end last offseason on Martellus Bennett, whose 65 catches in 2013 rank second for Bears tight ends in a single season. He played in 90 percent of snaps, fighting through some nicks and bruises to prove to be the Bears’ answer as an every-down tight end.
The key for Bennett this year is to stay healthy and provide more for the team as a blocker so it doesn’t need to use an extra offensive tackle as often, as it did last season with Eben Britton.
In camp, we know what we’ll see from Bennett – big catches down the seam and plenty of highlights off the field when he meets the news media – but the focus at this position, again, will be on the competition behind him.
Dante Rosario returns after playing in 17.2 percent of snaps last season, although this is his first trip to Bourbonnais: He was traded to the Bears before Week 1 last season. Blocking tight ends and offseason additions Matthew Mulligan, Zach Miller and Jeron Mastrud round out the group, as Fendi Onobun – a Bourbonnais favorite – was cut after minicamp.
Position battles: It’s déjà vu all over again at training camp as coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer seek that No. 2 tight end to complement Bennett and be a reliable insurance policy.
Last summer, Kyle Adams, Steve Maneri, Brody Eldridge, Gabe Miller and Onobun competed, and when that wasn’t enough, the Bears added veteran big man Leonard Pope. Clearly, no one stepped up, leading to the trade for Rosario, who eventually took over for Maneri.
As the Bears get set for Bourbonnais, Rosario has the edge, solely because of his familiarity with the offense, but it should be an open competition. Mulligan has good size (6-foot-4, 267 pounds) and plenty of game experience after seasons with the Patriots, Rams and Jets. Mastrud, who signed post-minicamp, also has imposing size for a blocker and fared well in that department for the Raiders last season. Miller may be the best pass catcher of the group.
We can’t count out the Bears adding another tight end to the competition at some point. They were fortunate that Bennett didn’t miss a game last season but will want a better plan behind him.
Contract situations: Bennett is under contract through 2016 and will get a base salary of $4.8 million this season, so there isn’t any issue with Bennett for the time being.
Rosario, Mulligan, Mastrud and Miller are all signed to veteran minimum deals. If someone steps up and not only makes the team but makes an impact, he could get a multiyear deal with a little guaranteed money next offseason, depending on how the franchise views the position.
Keep an eye on: Miller. No, not that Zach Miller. This one is 6-5, 236 pounds and had 41 catches in 2009-10 for the Jaguars but has not played in a game since 2011. He made a few eye-opening catches during OTAs and minicamp and, with Onobun gone, may be the best receiving threat of the backups. A dual-threat quarterback in college, Miller has intriguing athleticism and, if he can prove himself as a blocker, could surprise and be the team’s No. 2.