For the next two weeks, Full Press Bears will be exploring every positional group on the Chicago Bears with the annual Taking Inventory series, evaluating their previous season and determining their projections, along with some requirements for success. Today, we continue with the tight ends.
As a clear and true Andy Reid disciple, sophomore head coach of the Bears Matt Nagy centers his passing game around the booming position of the tight end. Under Reid, perennial All-Pro Travis Kelce has flourished and similar adoration now extends primarily to one of the budding quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s favorite targets-the spectacular Trey Burton.
Burton doesn’t leave a whole bunch to talk about. The home run free agent signing swiped from the Super Bowl champion Eagles instantly cemented himself as a premier weapon for the offense, finishing the season just behind the fiery rookie Anthony Miller for receiving touchdowns and broke double digits for yards per reception, all while missing zero games. Well, until the ignominious playoff game, where his peerless value to the offense detrimentally shined through.
Beyond that, we enter the former second-rounder Adam Shaheen into the conversation. In Burton’s absence, the somewhat disappointing Shaheen finally received the opportunity to prove himself worthy, a chance on the largest of stages and under the brightest of lights to erase his pitiful five reception season leading up to that point.
Instead, he turned in a three reception, thirteen-yard disappointment, adorned with fewer yards than Ben Braunecker, a bench warmer who brought in forty-two yards all season. To be fair, Shaheen only appeared in four games before the playoffs but there really can’t be excusing attempts to hurdle a safety on a crucial third down as a six-foot, six-inch monster.
And after a couple of total stinker seasons in spite of a strong college career, this season really will be do-or-die for the disheartening Shaheen. His rookie year hinted at some eye-popping pass-catching potential, scoring a team-high three touchdowns (this wasn’t a very good year for Bears receivers) and a decent 127 yards in seven games. Once the Bears brought on the tight end fanatic of Nagy, it seemed inevitable this past season would be a breakout year.
Then the injuries crept in. He wouldn’t see the field until Week Ten, subsequently missed Week Eleven, then put together an inconsistent string of contests to end of the season resulting in a singular score and nine yards excluding the 39-yard explosion (for him, yes, this is considered an explosion) against the Packers.
All in all, a brutal step backward replaced the smashing breakout anticipated by fans and coaches alike. So that leads us to this upcoming season, an obvious make-or-break for Shaheen. But what happened? None of this can be chalked up to lack of talent, as his massive 280-pound frame combined with lacey athleticism should have offered pass-catching production even early on. Nor can it be lack of proper coaching, as Burton’s emergence proves Nagy’s effective tight end usage on the Bears.
No, what really has held him back has been his sputtery injuries and sub-FBS college career. He did, after all, play at Ashland University, a private college somewhere in Ohio, and the jump to the pros already tests Alabama products, let alone a high-end high schooler. Similar to throwing high school dropout into Harvard, Shaheen being overwhelmed and in over his head was to be expected.
And for a player without much high-level competition entering the league, missing games has a much more visceral and crushing effect. Starting eleven of the thirty-three games in his career has made finding a rhythm extremely difficult, not even including the raw experience missed out on from the real game action. But all of this can be amended with some time and, two seasons in, we should expect a noticeable leap.
Quite honestly, as long as Shaheen can stay healthy and reliably play the first few games, there should be no reason he blossoms into a legitimate offensive star in his third season. Nothing from his talent holds him back so all he needs is a little momentum.
Two years under his belt and having adopted MMA for training, if this upcoming season doesn’t turn out to be a breakout year or at least a much-improved one, Shaheen may just have never been a viable NFL player in the first place. With two more years remaining on his contract, he won’t have time to waste if he wants a second term with Chicago.
Overall, the Bears tight ends look to be in great shape, supported by the excellence of Burton. If Shaheen finally comes into his own, the two will be a deadly duo for Trubisky. The Bears offense put themselves on the map last season and that momentum will only build going forward, promoted by the exceptional tight end group.
Oh yeah, and the 310-pound offensive tackle Bradley Sowell now has been switched to tight end to help bolster both the depth and blocking. Now that the Bears let go former blocking tight end Dion Sims, the Bears required an extra body not worth searching for out of house. He will also be only the second tight end in NFL history to break 310 pounds. That’s cool, I guess.