As Zach Miller is ‘progressing well,’ can Adam Shaheen make an impact his absence?

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As Zach Miller is ‘progressing well,’ can Adam Shaheen make an impact his absence?

Zach Miller is “progressing well” at University Medical Center New Orleans, according to Bears coach John Fox, though there isn’t a timetable yet for when he’ll be able to return to Chicago. 

“They’re taking (it) one day at a time, as I would expect and understand,” Fox said. 

The Bears are still digesting the horrific nature of Miller’s injury and the emergency vascular surgery that followed to save the tight end’s leg from amputation. But when they return from their off week on Nov. 12 to play the Green Bay Packers, someone will have to step up and fill the void left by Miller. 

Second-round pick Adam Shaheen will likely see his role increase beyond mostly being used in blocking situations in the absence of Miller. Half of Shaheen’s 100 offensive snaps have come in three tight end sets, according to NFL GSIS, with 44 in two tight end sets and six where he was the only tight end on the field. Of those 100 plays, only 19 were passing plays; Shaheen was only targeted on two of them (a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers and an incompletion against the New Orleans Saints). 

Shaheen said his blocking is “night and day” better than it was when he first got to Halas Hall, but knows he’ll be asked to do more than that in the second half of the season. 

“That’s what my role’s been, that’s what I’ve been focused on, and with Zach going down me and Daniel (Brown) are going to have to step up in the passing game,” Shaheen said. 

Veteran Dion Sims will be the team's No. 1 tight end and likely will contribute more in the passing game, too, as well as Brown. But the Bears invested a high pick in Shaheen, which shines a spotlight on the former Division II player. 

The Bears talked up Shaheen’s pass-catching skills when they drafted him with the 45th overall pick back in April, and hoped his 6-foot-6, 270 pound frame could make him a strategically-deployed weapon as a rookie. That hasn’t come to fruition yet, and he wasn’t able to use that size to get open in the red zone on Sunday — instead, he couldn’t separate from Saints safety Vonn Bell, and was unable to get open for Mitchell Trubisky on the play. 

“Just run through the guy,” Shaheen said of what he needed to do differently on the play. 

While it’s true rookie tight ends rarely make a major impact — only eight since 2002 have had 500 or more receiving yards — it’s rare for a tight end taken as high as Shaheen to not do much of anything in the passing game. Only three tight ends taken in the first two rounds of an NFL Draft have been targeted 10 or fewer times their rookie years since 2007 (Washington’s Fred Davis, Denver’s Richard Quinn, Arizona’s Troy Niklas). 

While Brown will likely receive an uptick in targets — he directly replaced Miller on Sunday and caught a pass for nine yards — Shaheen will be asked to do more in the offense going forward. And the Bears will need him to be up to that challenge. 

“Now it’s time to put it all together,” Shaheen said. ”Zach’s our guy, but he’s not going to be there to tell everybody what they’re doing and all that stuff, so somebody’s going to have to step up. I know myself and the other tight ends are ready to help out.” 

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday. 

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

The Bears began their slew of offseason moves by releasing inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Freeman, 31, signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bears in 2016.

In his first year in Chicago he amassed 110 tackles in 12 games but was suspended four games for PED use. He played in just one game lsat season before suffering a pectoral injury that placed him on IR. He then tested positive again for a performance-enhancing drug, resulting in a 10-game suspension that bleeds over into 2018 for two more games, wherever he winds up.