When the Bears’ 2019 season started, one of the team’s starting tight ends was a top-50 pick in the 2017 draft, and the other was a Super Bowl champion. 10 weeks, six losses, and a couple healthy scratches later, they’ll line up against the Giants with an infectious disease specialist from Harvard and a sociologist from Princeton.
The latter, new U-tight end Jesper Horsted, was promoted to the active roster on Wednesday morning. After spending his first two and a half months of his NFL career on the practice squad, Horsted will be among the final 53 when the 2-8 Giants come to town on Sunday.
“Yeah, I found out yesterday,” Horsted said. “Obviously really exciting stuff. I’m ready to go.”
He said first he “heard” about the decision through his agent, who vaguely told him that the Bears wanted to talk. The first post-meeting call he made is as heart-warming as it is unsurprising.
“My Mom,” he said with a smile. “She’s very excited as well. The whole family was very supportive, and some of them are going to make it out to the game, so that’s fun too.”
Horsted played wide receiver at Princeton, where he left with career records for receptions (196) and touchdown catches (28). No other Princeton player has 20. Not only has Horsted had to make an adjustment to tight end – he’s now around 240 lbs after being drafted at 225 – but the ‘U’ is a notoriously difficult position to learn in Matt Nagy’s system.
“He's done some good things for us,” Nagy said. “That's what you want to see. You want to be able to bring some guys in and let them develop over time. So we just felt like with our tight end position right now, that's something that we can do.”
“I feel pretty comfortable with [the U],” Horsted added. “By no means perfect, it’s still a new position to me, but I’m better than I was in the preseason. We’ll see about the contribution. I should get a few plays this week and earn a bigger role as I do good things.”
A handful of head-turning plays throughout the preseason quickly made Horsted a fan-favorite. His two scores – a 17-yard catch against the Colts and an eight-yard grab vs. the Titans – are both great examples of a skillset that has the entire tight ends room raving about what Horsted can do.
“He’s got great ball skills,” infectious disease specialist Ben Braunecker said. “You saw in the preseason that his catch radius is tremendous. His hands are great. He has a knack for getting open and separating at the top of routes. Good wide receiver traits - he knows how to get in and out of breaks, separate from coverage, all of that.”
Because scout team players don’t normally get to review their own practice tape, Horsted has spent his Saturdays this fall meeting with tight end coach Kevin Gilbride after practice. Those are the times when Horsted can pick Gilbride’s brain about the intricacies of position and ask some of the awkward questions that rookies might be too nervous to ask in a larger setting. He admitted that Sunday nerves will be unavoidable, but the rest of the Bears’ tight end group has been “so much better than [he] expected when [he] came into the NFL” at reaching out and offering unsolicited advice.
“...They will be like, on my case on the sideline being like, ‘What do you have on this play?’ or When are we killing this play?’” he said. “It’s even to the point where it’s just like, all right, leave me alone, I’m trying to watch. It’s a good thing, they’re helping a lot. And that’s everyone in the group.
“I would be nervous if I were to go out and be the ball boy for this game right now. But that’s a good thing.”