Chicago Bears  

 

Bears tight ends exchange words with Vikings' Sharper

  • By Associated Press
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark were a dangerous combo last week for the Chicago Bears, not that Minnesota Vikings safety Darren Sharper is concerned.

"I'm never concerned about the tight end," Sharper said during a conference call with Chicago reporters on Wednesday.

Never?

"Never," the three-time Pro Bowl pick said. "If a tight end catches a ball on me, then I need to be fired."

His job is secure, but he might have to pay attention to Clark and Olsen when the Vikings visit the Bears on Sunday. They certainly commanded it last week at Green Bay, helping the Bears rally from a 10-point halftime deficit to a 27-20 victory that kept Chicago in contention in the NFC North.

Clark caught three passes for 62 yards, Olsen had four for 57 and both had touchdowns -- with Clark providing the game-winner. It was a breakout performance for the rookie Olsen and another steady showing by the veteran Clark.

And after burying Green Bay, they shot back at Sharper on Thursday.

"I guess when you're the best safety in the league, first ballot Hall-of-Famer, the Brett Favre of safeties, you can do that," Clark said. "I guess he's a shutdown safety. When you're a shutdown safety, that's what you do."

Clark said Sharper has "to worry about his job security." The tight end also wondered if he should even bother showing up on Sunday, since he'll be facing a "shutdown safety."

"He already shut me down and we're not going to catch any passes. So there it is," said Clark, who has 19 catches for 231 yards.

Olsen grinned and said, "Des hit the nail on the head."

He also joked that the Bears have not run any plays for the tight ends in practice this week and made this bold proclamation: "I'm sure at one time a tight end caught the ball on him. He's been in the league. I'll go out on a limb and say a tight end has caught the ball at least one time."

This isn't the first time Sharper and the Bears exchanged words. Sharper accused quarterback Rex Grossman of talking trash after he threw a late touchdown to lift Chicago to a 19-16 victory at Minnesota early last season.

Along with the barbs, Sharper hit Clark and Olsen with some praise.

"I faced Clark a lot last year," Sharper said. "I thought he's a talented tight end, could get up the field. Both guys will block and are good pass catchers. Olsen's a first-round kid, so you know he's going to have some ability. The second half of the Green Bay game, the tight ends really stepped up and made some plays."

Olsen missed the first two weeks with a sprained knee and had just two catches entering the Green Bay game, but he and Clark came through against the Packers.

Olsen's 19-yard touchdown catch -- the rookie's first -- pulled Chicago within 20-17 with 4:19 left in the third quarter. And with just over two minutes remaining in the game, Clark broke away from two defenders and caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Brian Griese.

"We have to continue to keep them involved, as we do our receivers," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "The more (the tight ends) get involved, that's going to open up some things and give us some more opportunities to make big plays."

With two pass-catching tight ends to go with a deep set of receivers led by veteran Muhsin Muhammad and speedy Bernard Berrian, the Bears envisioned balance on offense. They got it, but not the kind they expected.

The running and passing games have been equally ineffective.

Grossman got replaced after three games by Griese. Muhammad has just 10 catches for 102 yards, and Berrian, who left last week's game with a toe injury, is still looking to break off a big play.

Things are no better on the ground, where Cedric Benson has just 303 yards on 101 attempts.

He ran for just 64 last week despite carrying 27 times, and although the Bears believe that commitment to the run created passing opportunities, Olsen and Clark were their best weapons. It was the first time they used the two tight ends to their advantage.

"If you have a tight end who can catch the ball well, you can try to get him matched up against a linebacker and get him in space and try to do some things with it," Sharper said. "A lot of times, they're a safety valve in the passing game because they do a lot of short routes. In the (defensive) scheme that we run and the scheme that Chicago runs ... a lot of times those shorter areas are open."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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