Bears

Has Adam Shaheen actually lived up to expectations in 2017?

Has Adam Shaheen actually lived up to expectations in 2017?

If the broad expectation for Adam Shaheen on July 26, when the Bears reported to training camp in Bourbonnais, was that he would be mostly deployed as a red zone threat and catch a handful of touchdowns in his rookie year…is it fair to say he’s met that expectation?

With three games remaining in the 2017 season, Shaheen has 12 catches on 14 targets for 127 yards with three touchdowns. He may not have the volume of receptions and yards to match how high the Bears drafted him in April, but he has proven to be difficult to cover in the end zone. 

There’s more to it than the numbers — while Zach Miller and Dion Sims were healthy in the first half of the season, Shaheen was primarily used as a blocking tight end (50 of his 100 snaps in the Bears’ first eight games were in three-tight-end sets, for example). And he had some missteps as a run blocker after Miller’s injury, like this one against the Philadelphia Eagles

But statistically, Shaheen’s numbers stack up somewhat favorably to those of recent rookie tight ends. 

There have been 144 tight ends to play as rookies in the last 10 years. Of those, only 24 (17 percent) have caught at least three touchdowns. Among those 24 tight ends, Shaheen currently has the highest catch percentage (85.7 percent) and the sixth highest average yards per target (9.07), though those are perhaps skewed by a small sample size (14 targets). 

With three games to go, let’s say Shaheen catches one more touchdown and eight more passes (that may be a conservative estimate, given how well he played against Cincinnati). But that would give Shaheen 20 receptions and four touchdowns; only 12 rookie tight ends have hit those benchmarks in the last decade. 

Comparatively, in the last 10 years, there have been 24 second-year tight ends to have at least 20 receptions and at least four touchdowns. The players to hit those marks in each of their first two seasons: Mychal Rivera, Aaron Hernandez, Hunter Henry, Rob Gronkowski, Jermaine Gresham, Jimmy Graham and John Carlson. For the most part, that's an impressive list. 

It’s still too early to tell what direction Shaheen’s career is taking. Even as he wasn’t doing much of anything in the first half of 2017 — he only was targeted twice — it was always too soon to label him a “bust” given the rarity of tight ends making a significant impact in their rookie seasons.

“So much of it is the blocking,” coach John Fox said why the adjustment to the NFL takes time for a tight end. “In this league, a lot of 4-3 teams, it’s a big defensive end, not some smallish linebacker type. So the blocking element, they’re like an offensive tackle. Technique-wise, especially when they’re 250 to 260, blocking a guy that’s real athletic, maybe at that weight or more, can be problematic.

“In the NFL the tight ends are involved a little bit more in protection, so there’s pass protection things—how you fit, where your help is—aside from the route running and the hot reads and all the stuff … I think NFL defenses are pretty complex as far as the things that they do. You have third-down defenses, you have first and second down defenses. There’s just a lot to learn for a college guy coming into the NFL.”

The best-case for the Bears is Shaheen will exit 2017 with a solid foundation on which to build in his second year in the league. We've seen signs that could be the case both as a run blocker and pass catcher, and it'll be interesting to see if he continues progressing over these final three games.

Bears could develop “twin towers” personnel package at WR with Robinson, White

Bears could develop “twin towers” personnel package at WR with Robinson, White

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Coaches are loath to give away competitive information, which can cover just about anything from play design to flavor of Gatorade dispensed by the training staff. But Matt Nagy offered an intriguing what-if personnel grouping that his offense could confront defenses with in 2018. It’s one that has been overlooked so far, for a variety of reasons.


The what-if personnel pairing is Allen Robinson and Kevin White as the outside receivers, a tandem that would put two 6-foot-3 wide receivers at the disposal of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Bears have not had a tandem of effective big receivers since Alshon Jeffery (6-3) and Brandon Marshall (6-4) averaged a combined 159 catches per year from 2012-14.


White’s injury history has relegated him to found-money status in many evaluations, and he has typically been running at Robinson’s spot while the latter was rehabbing this offseason from season-ending knee injury.


But Nagy on Wednesday cited Robinson’s ability to play multiple positions and clearly raised the prospect of his two of his biggest receivers being on the field at the same time.


“The one thing you’ll see here in this offense is that we have guys all over the place in different spots,” said Nagy, who credited GM Ryan Pace with stocking the roster with options at wide receiver. “Ryan did a great job of looking at these certain free agents that we went after, some of these draft picks that we went after and getting guys that are football smart, they have a high football IQ and they’re able to play multiple positions.


“When you can do that, that helps you out as an offensive playcaller to be able to move guys around. Is it going to happen to every single receiver that comes into this offense? No. But we do a pretty job I feel like at balancing of where they’re at position wise, what they can and can’t handle, and then we try to fit them into the process.”


The organization and locker room can be excused for a collective breath-holding on White, who has gone through his third straight positive offseason but whose last two seasons ended abruptly with injuries in the fourth and first games of the 2016 and 2017 seasons.


White was leading the Bears in with 19 receptions through less than four full games in 2016, then was lost with a fractured fibula suffered against Detroit. The injury was all the crueler coming in a game in which White already had been targeted nine times in 41 snaps and had caught six of those Brian Hoyer passes.


White’s roster status has been open to some question with the signings of Robinson and Taylor Gabriel together with the drafting of Anthony Miller. All represent bigger deep threats in terms of average yards per catch than White (9.2 ypc.) at this point: Robinson, 14.1.; Gabriel, 15.1; and Miller, 13.8 (college stats).


But Trubisky’s budding chemistry with White was evident throughout the offseason. And the second-year quarterback has studied what Robinson has been and seen some of what he can be.


“We know he has great hands, he’ll go up and get it,” Trubisky said. “Explosive route-runner. The more reps we get, it’s all about repetitions for us, continue to build that chemistry. Just going against our great defense in practice is going to allow us to compete and get better.”


Folding in the expectations for an expanded presence at tight end (Trey Burton), “targets” will be spread around the offense. How often the Bears go with a Robinson-White “twin towers” look clearly depends in large measure on White’s improvement as well as his availability.


Opportunities will be there. The Kansas City Chiefs ran 51 percent of their 2018 snaps, with Nagy as offensive coordinator, in “11” personnel (one back, one tight end, three receivers, according to Pro Football Focus. Whether White earns his way into that core nickel-wideout package opposite Robinson is part of what training camp and preseason will determine.


“[White] has had a good offseason and just like our team, he needs to carry that momentum into camp,” Pace said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, he’s very focused. The real expectation, just be the best he can be. Focus on himself, which is what he’s been doing.”

Bears starting secondary returns intact for ’18 – but is that a good thing?

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USA TODAY

Bears starting secondary returns intact for ’18 – but is that a good thing?

The coach of a woeful college basketball team was asked in a postseason media session if the fact that he had all five of his starters returning was cause for optimism. “The kids tried hard,” the coach pointed out, “but we won two games last year. So having everybody back isn’t necessarily a good thing.”

The Bears approach the 2018 season and training camp returning their entire starting secondary – cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller on new, multi-year contracts, safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson now being touted as one of the NFL’s top safety tandems.

And continuity is unquestionably a prized element, particularly with offensive lines and defensive backfields. Having the four principle starters back should be a good thing.

The problem is, the Bears tied for 29th in the NFL with eight interceptions, matching a franchise-low for the third straight season. The starting DBs four accounted for just five total interceptions, suggesting that for all the supposed continuity, the whole was somewhat less the some of the parts where the critical turnover ratio is concerned.

The last time the Bears intercepted more passes (19) than their opponents (13) was 2013 – the last time the Bears saw .500.

The importance of one statistic can be overstated, but turnovers, particularly interceptions, are the one measurable with the greatest correlation to winning. The top 11 and 13 of the 14 teams with positive turnover ratios all posted winning records in 2017 (the Bears were 15th, with a zero net differential). And while fumble recoveries obviously also count as takeaways, interceptions are key: The top 10 teams in interceptions all posted positive records and all 14 of the turnover-ratio leaders intercepted more balls than they recovered.

Of the takeaways by those top 14 in turnover ratio, 65.8 percent of their takeaways came on interceptions. The Bears and the bottom half of the NFL turnover gatherers picked up only 55.7 percent of their takeaways on interceptions.

“Well, we hope we’re going to improve there,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “That takes 11 guys doing it, but we’ll see. That’s obviously going to be an emphasis for us.”

Creating a different mindset

Individual Bears defensive backs had flash moments: Jackson became the first rookie in NFL history with multiple 75-yard defensive touchdowns in a season; Amos returned an interception 90 yards for a score; Fuller was one of only two NFL players with at least 65 tackles and 20 passes defensed.

The Bears self-scouted enough to understand those for what they were – exceptions, bordering the fluke-ish, given the overall. The result was that even during minicamps and OTA’s, there was an edge to the play of the secondary. Mitch Trubisky and his quiver of weapons will have to earn things, beginning against their own teammates.

“We’ve been getting the receivers and the running backs a little mad, but they know that we’re just trying to get better at [takeaways],” Amukamara said. “And just catching the ones that the quarterback throws to you. But if we keep making the most of our opportunities we know that those numbers will go up.”

The numbers could scarcely go anywhere but up.

Amos, who was languishing on the bench and a possible roster bubble before Quintin Demps suffered a forearm fracture in week three, went 2,638 career snaps before collecting his lone career interception last season on a ball deflected to him seven yards away.

Amukamara was signed to a new three-year contract with $18 million of its $27 million guaranteed – this despite a dubious streak that has reached 2,340 snaps and more than two full seasons since his last interception.

The goal is to change that by “just getting to the ball, everybody,” Amos said. “Everybody is making efforts at the ball during camp. It’s just something that we just are emphasizing every day trying to create more takeaways.”

Pro Football Focus rated the Bears’ secondary No. 30 going into the 2017 season, factoring in veteran safety Quintin Demps signed coming off his best NFL season and Fuller coming off a season missed with a knee injury.

That is not a given. Pass defense begins with a pass rush, but roster losses have cost the Bears more than one-third (14.5) of their 2017 sack total (42).