Previewing some of the big decisions facing NFC North teams early in the 2012 offseason:
Minutes after he was named the Minnesota Vikings' head coach in 2002, Mike Tice announced his first decision: Jim Kleinsasser would be moved from fullback to tight end. Some coaches discuss the quarterback while others focus on the defensive scheme. Stocking the tight end position ranked atop Tice's list of priorities, a revealing nugget about the kind of offense he planned to install.
Times and circumstances have changed, but 10 years later, there is every reason to presume a continued focus on the tight end now that Tice has taken over as the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator. The Bears once boasted a strong tandem in Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, but they discarded both players when their offense veered away from the position under former offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
A tight end himself for 14 years in the NFL, Tice likes to use them extensively in the passing game as well as run blockers. In four seasons with the Vikings, tight ends caught a total of 308 passes. So the first order of business this offseason will be to determine whether the Bears' incumbent starter, Kellen Davis, is capable of blossoming in that role.
Davis is a pending free agent but his career total of 28 catches might not spur mass interest on the free-agent market. He did score touchdowns on five of his 18 receptions last season, however, and his 6-foot-7 build makes him a potential downfield mismatch for linebackers.
The Bears will probably be on the lookout for downfield threats in the passing game, but Tice's affinity for tight ends means that Davis could prove a crucial part of their offensive plan for 2012.