December 09, 2010|By Dan Pompei | On the NFL
It is Brandon Manumaleuna's ability to defy characterization that makes him unusual, gives him value and provides the Bears offense with an element of unpredictability.
We call him a tight end, but he is so much more.
He is a player who won the NFL's punt, pass and kick competition at 11, went to college as a defensive lineman and now plays about 65 percent of his snaps at fullback.
But he's really a glorified offensive lineman.
And, not surprisingly, there isn't another player like him in the NFL. That's why Mike Martz drafted him when he was the coach of the Rams in 2001 and why the Bears offensive coordinator led the charge for the club to sign him to a free-agent deal worth a potential $15 million over five years.
Manumaleuna is to Martz what a high quality multi-purpose kitchen tool is to a serious chef.
"He's smart, so you can do so many things with him," said Martz, who plays Manumaleuna on about 70 percent of the snaps. "He gives you so much flexibility. He's an I-formation fullback, he lines up at tight end, you can throw him the ball in the flat."
It was more difficult for the rest of Chicago to appreciate Manumaleuna until recently. He had surgery in May to clean up cartilage damage in his knee and started the season slowly. As the year has gone on, he has become stronger and faster — though he still isn't going to win any footraces.
"My knee was giving me problems and it affected everything — even getting out of the chair," Manumaleuna said. "It's never going to be 100 percent, but it feels a lot better than it did."
With the Bears in the stretch run, Manumaleuna is playing his best football of the year. He has caught three passes in the last two weeks, including one for the winning touchdown against the Lions.
No one expected Manumaleuna to threaten Tony Gonazalez's record for tight end catches. Anything he catches really is a bonus as he usually runs only five to eight pass routes per game.
But every so often he will sneak out and find the defense has gone to sleep on him.
"Is he the fastest guy in the world? No," Martz said. "But he has great feet and can catch the heck out of the ball. He will catch it, and he'll make a play to win a game."
No matter if Manumaleuna is lined up as a fullback or a tight end, which he is almost exclusively in the Bears' nickel packages, the 300-pounder is on the field primarily to block.