As he talked about his role in late November, Bears tight end Greg Olsen explained how all catches are not created equal.
‘‘There are a lot of guys who get a ton of catches a game, and, granted, everyone wants that,’’ Olsen told the Sun-Times. ‘‘But there’s a difference between getting a lot of balls and catching balls that are meaningful.
‘‘Guys around here understand that. It’s not how many but the ones that you get.’’
During the offseason, Olsen endured speculation that he was on the trade block because new offensive coordinator Mike Martz previously hadn’t had much use for tight ends.
But Olsen plays a lot of snaps, and he lines up all over the field, showcasing his versatility.
‘‘Greg’s numbers in the passing game are not what they could and probably should be for his abilities, but what we’ve done with him is he lines up at the line of scrimmage, and he’s the point of attack,” Martz said. ‘‘But he’s also lined up at fullback and has been a lead blocker.
‘‘We line him up at wide receiver. He does so many things for us, and just by being able to do that flexibility, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense, though his numbers wouldn’t indicate that.’’
Martz is right.
In 2009, Olsen led the team in catches (60) and receiving touchdowns (eight) and had 612 receiving yards. This season, he’s fourth in catches (41) and has 404 receiving yards, but he’s tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with five.
Olsen doesn’t mind.
‘‘It’s definitely different,’’ he said, ‘‘but I really think — and wholeheartedly believe — it’s been a good thing. It’s really opened my eyes that you can have an impact on the game other than just catching touchdowns and catching the ball.’’
For instance, Olsen said, the tight ends are counted on in blitz pickups on third downs and blocking out of the backfield.
And nobody at his position is asked to do as much as Olsen, given his versatility — something opponents recognize and respect.
‘‘He’s one of the outstanding players they have on that side of the ball,” Seattle Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy said. ‘‘Definitely have to know where he’s at, knowing he’s one of [Jay] Cutler’s favorite targets.’’
Olsen hasn’t scored in over a month, and he has had one catch in four of the Bears’ last six games. But he remains an important part of the offense, Cutler said.
‘‘Greg’s still valuable to this offense right now,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘He does so many different things.
‘‘I think even though Greg’s numbers might be down, he’s probably had more fun in this offense than he has in years. Just the challenge of preparing each week and the different things we’re asking him to do.’’
Some of the demands are new to Olsen, who starred at the University of Miami as a hybrid tight end known mostly for catches, not blocks. But he has learned something.
‘‘You can have a big impact on the game without the ball,’’ he said, ‘‘and when the ball comes your way, you have to make the plays, and we have for the most part this year.’’
Then Olsen shifted into ‘‘we’’ mode.
‘‘The position has made some plays and been a factor in the passing game, but I think the position has helped in some other ways that sometimes can go unnoticed,’’ he said. ‘‘Overall, we’ve all grown a lot this past year as all-around players.”
The fourth-year player is looking forward to his first playoff game, an opportunity he fully expected to come much earlier because he was drafted months after the Bears reached Super Bowl XLI.
‘‘I was excited to come here, and you expect to be back right away,’’ Olsen said. ‘‘But, as a lot of teams know, that’s not the case. It’s not easy to get this far. There’s a lot that goes into it.
‘‘Myself and other guys who haven’t been in the playoffs are really anxious and really excited for this opportunity. We expect to do good things and keep this rolling. It all starts Sunday.’’