Two weeks ago, in reference to Adam Shaheen, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said the Bears “want to play him, continue to grow him.” That was coming on the heels of Shaheen’s two most productive games as a pro: A combined six catches (on six targets) for 80 yards with a touchdown.
Perhaps more notably, Shaheen played 65 percent of the Bears’ snaps against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. In the last two weeks, Shaheen played 31 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps.
The way the Bears see it, there are a few mitigating factors here. The first is the return of Dion Sims, who Shaheen had been backing up at the Bears’ “Y” position until an illness sidelined him for those games against Green Bay and Detroit. Daniel Brown was Zach Miller’s backup at a different tight end position (the “F”) and has played more there than Shaheen.
“This is how the NFL works,” Shaheen said. “Dion’s been the starter all year, done a great job, so once he came back it was going to be like that. I have to learn the F, which is something I haven’t really done up to this point. Just backing up Dion at the Y.”
Sims, though, is signed through 2019, and despite his lack of production this year (21 targets, 11 catches, 115 yards, 1 TD) he’s someone the Bears probably will pencil into their starting lineup next year, regardless of what the offense looks like under a potentially new coaching staff. So the Bears will need Shaheen to learn how to play a different tight end position, which is something that hasn’t been an easy transition for a rookie coming from a Division-II program.
“It’s really just a young player coming from a small school,” Loggains said. “Adam is a smart kid and at some point in this league he’s going to be a really solid football player. But it’s just the point of handling all … the things that come with tight ends – the moving pieces of, ‘hey, this team plays six different fronts.’ One play versus fronts is really six different plays, just being able to handle all that volume.
“We have six different packages for him and obviously when he was thrust into it earlier in the year when Dion went down and was sick he did a good job of filling in. He’s still working on some things in the run game and even just some technique stuff in the pass game. But where he helps you at is he’s big and contested catch guy. So that’s where he helps. It’s really just being able to hold the whole volume of what they do as well.”
Loggians said he wouldn’t say Shaheen has struggled with expanding his responsibilities as the Bears experiment in practice with different ways to get him on the field more on Sundays. But one of those ways to get him on the field more doesn’t sound like it’ll be a trial by fire, so to speak.
While the Bears are 3-9 this year and 12-32 in the John Fox/Ryan Pace era, this coaching staff won’t put an unprepared Shaheen on the field to get him experience on which to grow.
“I look at it one game at a time,” Loggains said. I understand the question you are asking (about letting Shaheen learn from making mistakes by playing him) and I understand why you are asking that. But right now, for us, it’s just Cincinnati.”
So you may not see much of the Bears’ second-round pick over these final four games. Shaheen was on the field for 26 plays over these last two games, though he has taken a lesson from his lack of recent usage.
What is that?
“Just the physicality and the grind that it’s going to take if I want to be a starter long-term,” Shaheen said.