Tony Moeaki signed with the Bears for the usual reasons — opportunity and fit.
“I like this offense, the former Wheaton-Warrenville South star said. “I like this offense a lot. They use the tight ends, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
As it turns out, the opportunity for Moeaki to resurrect his NFL career is greater than even he might have thought. With starter Zach Miller out because of a concussion, Moeaki is the most accomplished and experienced tight end on the Bears’ roster entering the preseason opener Thursday night at Soldier Field.
But it’s been four years since Moeaki was a consistently productive player with the Chiefs in 2010 (47 receptions, 556 yards, 11.8, avg., 3 touchdowns) and 2012 (33 receptions, 453 yards, 13.7 avg., 1 touchdown following ACL surgery). Injuries have curtailed his career — Moeaki has played in just 19 games over the past three seasons, with the Bills in 2013, the Seahawks in 2014 and the Falcons last year.
“I feel good,” Moeaki said. “I had a couple of years where I wasn’t healthy … but I’m out here, haven’t missed a practice. Just grinding through camp trying to get better and help the team.
“The key is just trying to get the reps in with this offense, with Jay [Cutler] and just showing them every day that I can still be that player.”
The 6-3, 250-pound Moeaki, a good athlete with a 36-inch vertical coming out of Iowa in 2010, is still a playmaker when healthy. In his first game with the Seahawks in 2014, he caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson against the Chiefs in Kansas City. Two weeks later against the 49ers, he turned a short pass into a 63-yard gain against Vic Fangio’s defense that led to a field goal.
Moeaki only caught three passes with the Falcons last season, but one was a 42-yard touchdown against the Saints, again turning a short pass into a big play. Four of his six NFL touchdowns have given his team the lead.
Moeaki might have been a flyer when he signed with the Bears in June, but with Martellus Bennett traded and Miller still out, his versatility and experience have increased in value on an offense still trying to establish itself.
“In previous systems, he was able to play multiple positions,” Bears tight ends coach Frank Smith said. “He’s a very smart football player. Very instinctive. He’s abel to understand conceptually what you want to do and what the defense is trying to do. It’s been impressive what he’s been able to grasp in such a short time.”
But as usual Moeaki’s success is based on just showing. He struggled with injuries throughout his college career. And had the torn ACL, a shoulder injury and a torn hamstring in the NFL.
“If he can stay healthy he can help us,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said succinctly. “He’s a smart player. We’ll see. He’s got an opportunity to compete like the rest of ‘em and there are no roles that have been defined at this point. But we like where he’s at and we like what he’s competing. He’s a pro.”