ORLANDO, Fla. -- I'm on record suggesting that trading and/or minimizing the role of tight end Greg Olsen would make absolutely no sense in Chicago. At the same time, you can't dispute the history of new coordinator Mike Martz's offense: No tight end has ever caught more than 38 passes over the course of a season.
That dichotomy has spawned all kinds of rumors about Olsen's future, but on Wednesday, coach Lovie Smith was unequivocal about it: "His role has increased as far as us going to him every year, and I don't see that changing."
How will that happen? Most importantly, Martz will have to make some adjustments to his approach. After all, no scheme should be so rigid that a Pro Bowl-caliber player can't play a major role. During the NFC coaches breakfast, Smith offered a few details about the Bears' plan to incorporate Olsen into Martz's offense.
First, Smith said he has maintained a regular dialogue with Olsen during the offseason, starting with the interview process that led to Martz's hiring and continuing through the decision to sign free agent Brandon Manumaleuna. "I let him know what we were doing," Smith said. "I said, 'We're improving our ball club.'" In other words, Olsen should be fully informed at this point.
Second, the Bears have identified the H-back role as what Olsen is "best suited for up to this point." Ultimately, though, Smith said Olsen will need to demonstrate proficiency as a traditional "in-line" tight end to maximize his productivity.
"We've always talked about the other things he can do," Smith said. "We can spread him out and all the things that we can do. But we've never talked about him being an in-line tight end. That's the next step with Greg, is getting him more comfortable playing that."
Reading between the lines, a cynic might suggest Smith wants Olsen to become a better blocker, the primary role Martz has traditionally assigned to his tight ends and the ostensible reason Manumaleuna was signed. But when I asked why he wouldn't focus on positioning Olsen in the slot or outside receiver to promote mismatches, Smith offered a different explanation.
"You would like to do that," Smith said. "But in order for that to work, guys have to really respect Greg as an in-line tight end. A lot of times last year, guys kept their nickel group out there with Greg. You don't want that. You would like to see him matched up on a safety or linebacker."
I guess there are different ways to interpret that sentiment, but look at it this way: If teams believe the Bears can run consistently behind Olsen or when he is lined up as a tight end, they are more likely to keep their base defense in the game. Theoretically, Olsen would have a more favorable matchup against a team's base defense than he would against a more skilled cover cornerback in the nickel.
"Greg is going to be a highly productive guy in any offense," Smith said. "[And] yeah, he can be successful in this offense. He will. Not can. He will. He is a competitor and he is going to find a way."
In a Bears uniform, it appears.