LAKE FOREST – Of the many things that have not panned out this season for the Bears, the tight end position may very well be the most disappointing, even with Mitchell Trubisky’s struggles in his second year in Matt Nagy’s offense.
There has been little to celebrate at all about the group, which had high hopes starting with the beginning of the 2019 season. But injuries and poor play have derailed what Ryan Pace hoped would be a solid group, and with six games left the position sits in complete limbo.
Trey Burton is on injured reserve with a calf injury but was also slowed by a groin issue that plagued him since his late scratch against the Eagles in the Wild Card playoff game in January. Adam Shaheen, who was a second-round draft pick in 2017, hasn’t come close to living up to expectations and is currently sidelined with a foot injury.
So who’s left?
How about reserves Ben Braunecker along with JP Holtz, Jesper Horsted (elevated from the practice squad Wednesday) along with converted offensive lineman Bradley Sowell. They’ll be the ones to try to pick up some of the load that wasn’t picked up by the injured Burton or Shaheen the bulk of the 2019 season.
After missing the first game of the campaign with lingering issues from a groin injury along with offseason sports hernia surgery, Burton caught just 14 passes for 84 yards without a touchdown. That was well down from his 54-catch, 569-yard first season with the Bears that included six touchdowns for the NFC North champions.
Coming off an injury-riddled 2018 season, Shaheen never got much going this season as he’s caught just nine passes for 74 yards before he was a scratch before the Lions game then went out with a foot injury.
This could be a reason that Nagy’s offense along with his playcalling has been altered for the worse this season. The tight end position has always been important, especially when the offense was at its best in Kansas City with tight end Travis Kelce. He had 85 catches and 1,125 yards in 2016 then 83 grabs for 1,183 yards with seven scores in 2017.
Now Nagy has four tight ends who have only a little experience in the NFL and just six combined catches during the 2019 season. Braunecker, mainly a special teamer since joining the Bears in 2016, has the most experience of the group, having gotten snaps at tight end in three of the last four seasons. He’s got four catches on the season, including a great catch on his first career touchdown against the Lions on November 10th.
Holtz has a pair of catches on the year while Sowell has endured a season of flux as he’s gone from the practice squad to the main roster to being released a number of times. Horsted, an undrafted free agent, caught a touchdown in the preseason against the Colts and has been on the practice squad since the start of the season.
These are the options for Nagy for the moment and likely the rest of the season as another obstacle presents itself during what looks like a lost season.