CHICAGO- Yesterday we reported that veteran tight end Leonard Pope was on hand at Bears training camp with the Bears intending to sign him. Today, that signing was made official as the Bears signed the 29-year-old pass catcher to a one-year deal. He’s expected to immediately be the number two guy behind Martellus Bennett.
Brody Eldridge was let go to make room for Pope on the 90-man roster. While Eldridge may not be the happiest man in the world right now, the Bears made this move for the better of the team. Last year’s Bears’ tight ends consisted of Kellen Davis, Matt Speath and Kyle Adams.
After lackluster seasons in 2012, Davis and Speath were immediately released upon the signing of Martellus Bennett. The Bears also brought Eldridge, Gabe Miller, Fendi Onobun, and Steve Maneri into the fold while hanging onto Adams. Despite these offseason moves, I still had my doubts about everyone behind Bennett.
Miller is entering just his third NFL season. He began his career with Kansas City in 2011 but never really saw playing time. He moved onto Seattle in 2012 but was only on the practice squad. The Bears signed him earlier this year and were hoping 2013 would finally be the year that he could contribute in the National Football League.
Unfortunately, Miller’s future with the Bears is in-doubt because he is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. That usually doesn’t bold well for an unproven player. Then there is Fendi Onobun, a man who played four years of college basketball and only one year of college football.
Onobun has been mostly a career practice squad player in the NFL and only has 15 receiving yards in his entire career. He would be a project for the Bears and the last thing a rebuilding offense needs is a project player, while Steve Maneri is a converted offensive tackle who’s still learning the position.
Brody Eldridge only has 14 receptions in his four-year career which would explain why he was the one let go to make room for Pope. Then there is Kyle Adams who has managed to keep his roster spot with the Bears but hasn’t been a major contributor. So on draft day, I was hoping that the Bears would address the tight end position.
They had the chance to draft Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert with the 20th overall pick. Instead they opted to take Kyle Long. While I believe Long will make his presence felt with the Bears, I was disappointed that the Bears didn’t use a single draft pick on a tight end. As I covered the rookie minicamp, the full team minicamp and the OTAs, I was concered about the depth and lack of experience behind Martellus Bennett.
Considering the Bears had decided to stick with what they had at the time, I was under the impression that Marc Trestman liked what he saw in the offseason. When the buzz about Leonard Pope started circulating around Bourbonnais, I felt that the Bears had to pull the trigger and make the deal.
They did, and now I feel much better about the Bears tight end group moving forward. Here is what Leonard Pope brings to the table…. The eight-year veteran has 105 career catches for 982 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also averages almost 10 yards per catch, 9.4 yards to be exact.
Listed at 6-6 and 264 pounds, he has the size and the wing span along with the speed to be a deep threat in the Bears passing game. Pope is also an exceptional blocker which will be a major boost in pass protection and the run game. Pope gives Marc Trestman and Jay Cutler a variety of options on offense.
Perhaps Pope can line up at tight end while using Bennett in the slot. The Bears could also employ different ace formations with both men on the field at the same time. Don’t be surprised if the Bears use Pope as an H-back to some degree. Of course the latter option could spell trouble for fullback Tony Fiametta, but there is no denying that Pope makes the Bears a better team.
This is another case of general manager Phil Emery showing that he is not afraid to make the necessary moves for the better of the franchise. While some still believe that the Bears are in rebuilding mode, I believe that the Bears are constantly working to move on from past mistakes.
So now with Martellus Bennett at the top of the depth chart and Pope now right behind him, Adams, Onobun, Maneri and Miller will now have to work harder to get in at the bottom of the depth chart. I expect the Bears will only keep three or four tight ends when the 53-man roster is made in September.
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