A lot of what tight end Matt Spaeth does for the Bears' offense goes unnoticed -- except when he doesn't do it well.
"He's a wild card in our offense," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "He moves around a lot. We ask him to do a lot of different roles in the passing game and the running game. He doesn't get the credit he deserves. But week in and week out, he's a guy you can count on, no matter what we ask him to do. He's a grinder, he's a hard worker, and I really appreciate what he does out there for us."
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Spaeth has just 1 catch this season for 4 yards, but he helped keep Cowboys Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware from wreaking havoc on Cutler on Monday night.
"Matt is a role tight end, similar to what I was when I played," offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. "He's never going to go out and catch 12 balls, but he's going to have a very important part in our run game, a very important part in our protection game."
Spaeth has never caught more than 17 passes in a season and he's got just 44 career receptions for a 7.6-yard average.
"Every once in a while he'll catch a crumb, and that's just the way (it is); that's his role," Tice said. "But we're running the ball a lot with him in there, we're 'play-actioning' a lot with him in there, and then we utilized him a bunch in the chip game."
On some passing downs against the Cowboys, Spaeth helped left tackle J'Marcus Webb handle Ware, who had 19½ sacks last season and 5 this year but had just 1 against the Bears. At other times, instead of chipping Ware, he was 1-on-1 with the sack master. In those situations, even when he succeeds, only his teammates take notice. If he fails, everyone sees Cutler get sacked.
"Honestly, I don't really care if I get the credit," Spaeth said. "I want to be out there. I want to play football. My thing has been, since I've been here, I'll do whatever they ask me to do. Whether that's blocking DeMarcus Ware, pass-blocking, different things, I just do what they ask me to do, and no matter what it is, I just want to try to do it to my best ability.
"If we do well as an offense or well as a team and win and score, and if I happen to be in and have a big block, I don't really care about the credit. But you're definitely right that, if you do get beat, it looks really bad."
Blocking is what keeps Spaeth in the NFL, but it's not as if he doesn't relish a chance to get his hands on the football. He won the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end in 2006 at Minnesota, and he holds school career records for tight ends with 109 receptions and 1,291 receiving yards.
"I've come to expect myself to be able to handle a pass rush or make a big block," he said. "That's what I pride myself on. My role is more of a blocker, so I don't get maybe as excited when I do that. But I don't get a lot of opportunities to catch passes. So, if I did catch a big pass over the middle, I'd be more excited about that."
People would notice that, and he might even get some credit for it.