With the Bears currently at 6-6, Chicago is at the very least guaranteed four more regular season games in 2019. Playoffs are not technically out of the equation, but the reigning NFC North champs will need some help in order to make the postseason.
But even if the Bears’ season ends after their Week 17 matchup against the Vikings, a lot can still be gained in the final games. Most importantly would be to continue assessing and developing the young talent on the roster, and one group that head coach Matt Nagy will be observing thoroughly is the tight end position.
It’s well documented that Nagy’s offense is heavily dependent on the play of the tight ends, especially since the “Y” and “U” positions have their own unique and specific role in the scheme. So, coming into this season, there was hope that starting TEs Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen could be the weapons the offense needed to help take the next step in Year 2 under Nagy.
Burton had a fairly successful first year in 2018 and finished with 54 receptions, 569 yards and six touchdowns, and despite being held out of the last season’s Wild Card Game due to injury, 2019 was supposed to be another productive year. Shaheen, on the other hand, still had upside as a former second-round pick.
But just two days after the Bears defeated the Lions 24-20 on Thanksgiving day, Shaheen’s season ended. The starting tight ends were both placed on IR (Shaheen on Nov. 30 and Burton Nov. 16) to end an extremely disappointing 2019 campaign.
The numbers speak for themselves, and the lack of production from the tight ends has only added to the issues the Bears currently have on offense. But the void that Burton and Shaheen created has given the backups opportunities to showcase their abilities.
Here is what Ben Braunecker, J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted have done in the limited games they have played in this season.
Let’s be honest, the collective stats by the backups now turned starters are not anything to be overly impressed about. Still, it’s worth seeing how Braunecker, Horsted and Holtz perform for the rest of 2019.
Holtz was the first of the group that made his presence felt this season. In the Bears’ 17-16 loss to the Chargers, Holtz helped rookie running back David Montgomery get the first 100-yard rushing game of his young career. Montgomery finished with 27 carries, 135 yards and a touchdown.
Against the Chargers, Holtz lined up primarily as the fullback and was the lead block for Montgomery. Each of these runs were called on first down and kept the offense ahead of the chains and helped the rookie to reach the end zone.
Braunecker, now in his fourth year with the Bears, caught his first career touchdown in the meeting with the Lions at Soldier Field in Week 10. On second-and-5 from the Lions’ 18-yard line, Braunecker lined up in the slot to the right, made an inside move on safety Will Harris as he ran the corner route, and this gave Mitch Trubisky enough space to fit the ball perfectly into his tight end’s hands. The touchdown was the Bears’ first points of the game, and after the extra point, Chicago took the lead, 7-6.
.@Mtrubisky10 puts this ball right on the money. #Bears100 @HarvardFootball’s @Ben_Braunecker makes an incredible catch for his first career touchdown! @ChicagoBears #DETvsCHI
?: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/414bcK9I5b pic.twitter.com/XYZreonq0K
— NFL (@NFL) November 10, 2019
Ironically, Horsted’s first career touchdown also came against the Lions, on an 18-yard pass and with Harris in coverage. This time, though, the venue was Ford Field. With the Bears down 17-10 in the third quarter, Horsted lined up next to the right tackle on first-and-10. At the snap, he released up the field and began to separate from the defender on the post route. Trubisky then put just enough touch on the ball for Horsted to corral it against his helmet.
WHAT. A. CATCH. ?
Jesper Horsted hauls it in to tie this game up! @JHorsted #Bears100
?: #CHIvsDET on FOX
?: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/QeumWCLyaU pic.twitter.com/yWsXRT10DQ
— NFL (@NFL) November 28, 2019
For the young tight ends, these last four games will be pivotal for them to leave a lasting impression on the Bears’ coaching staff. The remaining opponents (Dallas, Green Bay, Kansas City and Minnesota) each have given up some favorable statistics to opposing tight ends.
According to The Football Database, Dallas has given up five TDs on the year to tight ends. Green Bay has given up the second-most yards with 804 and is tied for giving up the fourth amount of TDs with six. Kansas City is tied with Arizona for the most receptions given up at 77, and opposing teams have targeted tight ends 116 times against Minnesota’s defense, which is the most in the league.
Obviously, there is no guarantee that the Bears will take advantage of these defenses, but these final opponents may just be what the offense needed in order to finally see some quality production out of the tight ends.
If the tight ends want to make an impact on this offense, they will have an opportunity on Thursday night against Dallas to make that happen.
Eric Shaffer says
Trey Burton is a talented player (hence why he is in the NFL) however he was the #3 TE on the Eagles Roster in 2017 for a reason. #3 behind Zach Ertz (understandable, this guy is a monster when he holds onto the ball) and an aging and primarily blocking Brent Celek. Burton has some utility to him, however his blocking was never what got him extra snaps on the offense. It was his ability to be utilized for some speed and also some trickery. Prime Example: One of the greatest plays in any Super Bowl ever, The Philly Special, where he threw a beauty of a pass to BD Nick Foles. The guy is talented but just not up to being held up to #1 TE Standards.
Shaheen baffled me when we selected him in the 2nd round. I followed CFB pretty well up until he was drafted and I was thinking “Who even is this guy?”. I heard from a friend that Shaheen was struggling to comprehend the playbook and figure out where he had to be during offseason camps following the draft. Rumor had it that he wasn’t smart enough to understand what was going on. I don’t believe this is the case. However, I think that his success at the FCS level was not translating into NFL level at all. Also the injury bug seems to have been plaguing him. I think we need to move on from Shaheen soon. Feel bad for the kid.
Braunecker is the type of tight end I would like to see on the Bears full time. I have been impressed by his play these past few outings. I think he is blocking well and other than a few drops, he has been a pretty reliable target for the often struggling Mitch. I wish Ben would have been on the field more during the regular season. I hope that these last few games really help him develop not only his skills, but a level of trust with Trubisky. Look at all of these QBs around the league with there go-to guy as their TE. Wentz and Ertz, Mahomes and Kelce, Garoppolo and Kittle (Just to name a few). Yes, these guys are freaks of nature on the field and talented beyond belief, but they are a reliable and crucial resource for any young QB to have. I Wholeheartedly believe that Wentz wouldn’t have developed into the QB he is without Ertz.
I’d be interested in seeing if Purdue’s TE Brycen Hopkins chooses to go to the draft. He might be a good mid round steal and fill a good TE void for the Bears as we try and rebuild the OL and our TE areas.
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