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Bears must catch up to tight trend

Louisiana-Lafayette tight end Ladarius Green ran 4.53-second 40-yard dash combine. | Michael Conroy~AP

Louisiana-Lafayette tight end Ladarius Green ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the combine. | Michael Conroy~AP

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Updated: March 29, 2012 8:16AM

INDIANAPOLIS — Tight end Ladarius Green, who starred at Louisiana-Lafayette, couldn’t believe the interest from NFL coaches and scouts.

During the NFL Scouting Combine, he visited with the Bears and, he believes, every other team in the league.

“It was a great experience,’’ he said. ‘‘I was humbled and blessed by it. Coming from a small school, I didn’t even expect all those people to know about me. But they did, and it was a great honor.”

That’s because Green plays a hot position and posted impressive numbers (a nation-high 794 receiving yards among tight ends). He confirmed his rare athleticism by running the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds.

Throughout the 2011 season, teams showcased tight ends more as pass catchers than run blockers.

The Bears, though, weren’t among the trend-setters.

On Thursday, coach Lovie Smith said Kellen Davis could be a featured tight end. But Davis is an unrestricted free agent, and many scouts and personnel executives at the combine believe the Bears are seriously considering other free-agent tight ends.

That class, overall, is stronger than the draft class.

“Everyone is looking for that next guy,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said after highlighting what New England Patriots tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski did last season. “But I don’t have a first-round grade in the tight end class. I’ve got three second-round grades, and then I’ve kind of got an abyss.

“I think the tight end class is a rough one.”

But there are several intriguing veteran free agents, such as Fred Davis (Washington Redskins), Martellus Bennett (Dallas Cowboys), Jacob Tamme (Indianapolis Colts), Visanthe Shiancoe (Minnesota Vikings) and John Carlson (Seattle Seahawks).

Davis, though, might not hit the open market; the Redskins are reportedly expected to put the franchise tag on him. The Green Bay Packers signed Jermichael Finley to a two-year, $15 million contract last week to ensure he didn’t become an unrestricted free agent.

Bennett and Tamme have been in the shadow of Pro Bowl pass-catching tight ends in Jason Witten and Dallas Clark. Teams will have to discern whether they’re ready to shine.

Both have shown plenty of promise.

Tamme, for instance, caught 67 passes for 631 yards and four touchdowns in 2010 in place of an injured Clark. His numbers dropped dramatically last season, but the Colts struggled at quarterback with Peyton Manning sidelined.

With only Matt Spaeth — known more for his blocking — on the roster, the Bears will need to address their tight end situation, and they could do it via the draft and free agency.

New offensive coordinator Mike Tice, after all, played tight end in the NFL, and he has highlighted the position more in the past than his predecessor, Mike Martz.

Tice also has a reputation for helping to develop tight ends, working closely with Marcedes Lewis while he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

At the combine, though, the Bears got an up-close look at many athletic tight ends, including Oklahoma’s James Hanna, who ran a 4.49 in the 40.

“People are getting creative with how to get tight ends the ball,” he said, “and in the playoffs, a lot of tight ends made big plays.

“That’s how I see myself.”

Green was measured at 6-6, 238 pounds. And despite his strong 40-yard dash, he wanted to do better.

“I was hoping mid-4.4s,” he said.

As for his meeting with the Bears, Green said he enjoyed his visit with tight ends coach Mike DeBord.

“I felt like I gave good answers,” Green said, “and I seemed to get along with him.”

Hanna and Green had the two fastest times, but there are other highly regarded tight ends in the 2012 NFL draft class. Among them: Dwayne Allen of Clemson, Orson Charles of Georgia, Drake Dunsmore of Northwestern, Michael Egnew of Missouri and Coby Fleener of Stanford.

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