The Bears signed Martellus Bennett to a long-term deal in the offseason in an attempt to upgrade the tight end position. Now the team is looking to provide more experience and depth to the position with the signing of Leonard Pope.
In just over a week of training camp, Bennett has clearly given quarterback Jay Cutler a much-needed playmaker in the middle of the field. While Bennett has shined, the other tight ends have not been quite as impactful, opening up an opportunity for the veteran Pope.
“No doubt, it’s not going to be easy,” Pope said following Saturday night's Comcast Bears Family Fest. “I know what it takes to be the type of player that you need to be, so I’m just working my way up the ladder right now.”
Pope’s 6-foot-8 frame would typically be a noticeable advantage, but three of the five tight ends are 6-foot-6 (Bennett, Steve Maneri and Fendi Onobun), while Kyle Adams and Gabe Miller are only a few inches shorter on the height chart.
Regardless of measurables, Pope believes his greatest asset may simply be man-hours on the job.
“Obviously experience, going on my eighth year in the league,” Pope said. “We’ve got a great set of guys with Martellus [Bennett] and Steve Maneri and those caliber guys. Andy Bischoff is a great coach and I’m just happy to be here right now.”
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Bischoff, the Bears first year tight ends coach, is one of the few Alouette staffers who made the trip south to Chicago from Montreal with head coach Marc Trestman. While Pope was inked in large part due to his past, Trestman feels the immediate future will likely be much more important in determining where the veteran will fit on this year’s team.
"He had a good workout for us, he's just getting started so it'll be a big week for him as he grows in our offense and gets to know our locker room," Trestman said.
Back in 2007, Pope caught 23 passes for 238 yards and five touchdowns with the Arizona Cardinals, but last season in Pittsburgh he only had three catches for nine yards and two scores. But Pope's production may not be necessarily about quantity, but instead about quality. The former Georgia Bulldog has been a matchup nightmare in the red zone throughout his entire career, something the Bears will certainly look to utilize if he sticks on the roster this season.
Some may recall that Pope received national attention in 2011 when he dove into a pool fully clothed, with his wallet and cell phone in his pockets, to save a drowning boy.