BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Let’s clear something up: The Bears don’t believe Ian Bunting was responsible for a sack of Chase Daniel during Thursday night’s preseason game.
To those without knowledge of what the playcall was, it looked like Bunting whiffed on blocking Carolina Panthers first-round edge rusher Brian Burns, who blew past him to drop Daniel. But coach Matt Nagy explained Saturday the blame for the sack was on his quarterback, who should’ve continued bootlegging to his left. Instead, Daniel stopped, and Burns went untouched past Bunting for a sack.
Still, Bunting felt like he should’ve done better on that play.
“I gotta block him,” Bunting said. “Plain and simple, I need to be there for my quarterback. That’s my fault. I gotta get in his way and not let him get to the quarterback.”
The Bears certainly will like hearing that from their undrafted rookie free agent tight end, who has done far more to help his case to make the team’s 53-man roster than hurt it during training camp. The Hinsdale native — he went to Hinsdale Central with fellow Bears undrafted rookie Thomas Ives — has stood out the most among the team’s four undrafted rookie tight ends, especially as Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen missed practices due to minor ailments and/or precautionary measures.
For what it’s worth, Bunting was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Bears tight end Thursday night, ahead of Bradley Sowell, Ellis Richardson and Dax Raymond. He played 22 snaps, catching three of four targets for 77 yards.
But the Bears already had an idea of Bunting’s pass-catching upside. What they wanted to see was how he could hold the running game point of attack in a more physical setting than training camp practice, and Bunting felt like he held his own in that regard.
“It was a lot of fun,” Bunting said. “Obviously gotta clean a lot of things up. But I think I put some good things on tape, some things I clearly need to improve on, and we’re just taking it day by day.”
Bunting did commit two penalties — both false starts — and fumbled when Panthers safety Rashaan Gaulden pulled off a perfectly-executed Peanut Punch.
“If anything, you just have to grip it a little bit tighter,” Nagy said. “That kid (Gaulden) wound up and punched the hell out of it. … (Bunting) had a chance later in the game at the end of the half when he caught that ball over the middle and he protected it. I was glad that he at least understood it.”
Bunting’s path to making the Bears’ roster isn’t easy, though, even if he’ll leave Bourbonnais on Sunday as one of the fringy players who helped his case the most during training camp. The Bears don’t need to carry five tight ends, as they did in 2018, especially if Javon Wims and Marvin Hall play well enough to force the team into carrying seven wide receivers. And the Bears like what Sowell has done at tight end to date, giving the converted offensive lineman an early inside track at the roster.
Still, the 6-foot-7 Bunting’s soft hands and receiving upside may make him a risky bet to be stashed on the Bears’ practice squad — especially if he keeps putting good things on tape over the next three preseason games. And Bunting’s solid showing in training camp has been a welcome development for a Bears team needing better tight end depth.
For now, Bunting isn’t trying to think about making the Bears’ cut in three weeks. But he knows what’s ahead of him is, as he put it, a “hell of an opportunity” for a Chicagoland native to play for the Bears.
“It would be a dream come true,” Bunting said. “Growing up around here, this is the football team you root for. It would be awesome.”