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Chicago Bears 2019 Position Battles: The tight ends are ready to break out

Next up in our eleven-part Chicago Bears Training Camp preview series are the tight ends.

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I know, I know... This seems like such a 2018 headline, but here we are with another offseason of hype surrounding the outstanding mini-camp and OTA work from 2017 second-round draft pick, Adam Shaheen. At last season’s training camp, the Bears ran plenty of double tight end sets, with Shaheen standing out on a daily basis, so it’ll be interesting to see if that trend continues this year at Bourbonnais.

Roster Locks

The Bears are set at their top two spots with Trey Burton as the primary U (move tight end) and Shaheen as the primary Y (in-line TE).

Burton already had his breakout season a year ago, although some Bears’ fans were disappointed that he only had 54 receptions, 569 yards, and 6 touchdowns. That’s a solid stat line for a tight end in the first year of a system, but I understand wanting more with his average annual salary of $8 million, which ranks 8th among all tight ends. He had a knack for finding the holes in defenses a year ago and I expect that to continue in 2019.

Head coach Matt Nagy liked what he’s seen from Shaheen this offseason and believes his ceiling as a player is still high. “Last year I was just starting to learn who he was as a player and what he could handle offensively,” coach Nagy said during OTA workouts via the team’s website. “Then he got hurt in the preseason game. That was disappointing because I think he knew that his arrow was going up.”

Shaheen needs to stop thinking so much on the football field and just play to his strengths. And by strengths, I’m talking about his 270 pounds that he needs to better utilize. We’ve seen flashes of him powering through tacklers, and using his 6’6” frame to ward off defenders, but Shaheen has the physical attributes to be a bully on the football field. He has great size and good athleticism, now we just need to see his football-IQ and gridiron-nasty come out.

“The biggest thing for Adam is to make sure that he does everything he can physically to stay healthy,” Nagy said. “And then mentally, he was in all the meetings last year, making sure that he was staying up mentally with everything. Now to be able to put both of those things together is going to be the biggest prize for us.”

A good bet to make it

Besides the two players above, I think Ben Braunecker, who can fill in at both tight end spots and play special teams, as as close to a lock as you can get. However, with so many tight ends on the roster, I would not be shocked to see someone push him off the team. He was just re-signed to a two-year deal this offseason, but a $550,000 guarantee isn’t too much to prevent them from making a move if a better option presents itself.

On the bubble

Last year, the Bears opened the season with four tight ends on the active roster, plus Shaheen on injured reserve. If the Bears roll with four again in 2019, the top two candidates are going to be converted offensive lineman Bradley Sowell and undrafted free agent Dax Raymond out of Utah State.

Each player brings a different and specialized set of skills with Sowell (6’7”, 312) being a true blocking force at the position, and Raymond (6’5”, 255) being a better fit for the move-TE spot. Sowell played more last year at tight end and fullback than he did at o-line, so his transition really started a year ago. I wonder if he’s cut any weight now that he’s officially in his new position, or if he’ll provide more roster flexibility by staying at his offensive tackle weight, just in case.

Other UDFAs the Bears have in camp are Ellis Richardson (6’3”, 240) from Georgia Southern, Ian Bunting (6’7”, 255) from Cal, and Jesper Horsted (6’4”, 215) a converted wide out from Princeton.

How ever the Bears end up going, I’d expect at least one of these undrafted guys to make it back to the practice squad.