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 Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?


With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot. 

Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?


Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?

JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin are joined by NBC Sports Philadelphia Eagles reporter Dave Zangaro to offer an encouraging connection between Carson Wentz’s growth and that of Mitchell Trubisky.

Check out the entire podcast here: