Pre-camp depth chart
1. Trey Burton
2. Daniel Brown
1. Dion Sims
2. Adam Shaheen
3. Ben Braunecker
4. Colin Thompson
1. Will Trey Burton live up to his contract?
The Bears guaranteed Burton $22 million over the course of his four-year contract, and at the least committed themselves to the 26-year-old for the next two seasons. That’s a lot of cash for a guy who only had 63 receptions for 629 yards in four years with Philadelphia, during which he only started five games and never played more than 33 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps.
But Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy identified the 6-foot-3, 235 pound Burton as an ideal fit to be the “U” tight end in the Bears’ offense in March. Burton did catch five touchdowns in 2017, and all five of those scores came from outside the opposing 10-yard line (for comparison, all three of Adam Shaheen’s touchdowns last year came from the one- or two-yard line).
Another advantage for Burton is that he worked in an iteration of Nagy’s offense under Doug Pederson (another Andy Reid disciple) in Philadelphia. That knowledge showed up during OTAs, and allowed Burton and Mitch Trubisky to quickly develop good chemistry.
“He can do anything we ask him within this offense,” Trubisky said. “He's going to get open, he's really smart, runs great routes and has sure hands. I feel like any time he's on the field, he's going to be open and make a play for us when we need it.”
Burton will be expected to play far more snaps with the Bears than he did with the Eagles, and his ability to handle that workload will go a long way toward determining if he can live up to that rich contract. Burton will have had about five months to prepare for his prominent role, though, and seemed to have the right mindset about it during the offseason program.
“In Philly it was kind of tough for me because I never knew week in and week out how much I was going to play,” Burton said. “I was always preparing like I was going to play a lot. But then the games where I wouldn’t play a lot, I’d be a little disappointed. Now, I don’t think that will be the case. I know how to prepare to be the ‘the guy.’ It’s just kind of unfortunate that I haven’t had to do that. It’s not my first time jumping into that role.”
2. How much do the Bears like Dion Sims?
On the surface, it looked like Sims was in line to be a cap casualty in mid-March, when $4 million of his $6 million 2018 salary became fully guaranteed. The Bears, though — not hurting for cap space this year — decided to keep Sims, despite him putting up underwhelming receiving numbers (15 catches on 29 targets for 180 yards with one touchdown) and having some uneven games as a blocker in 2017 (which, perhaps, had something to do with facing so many stacked boxes thanks to the lack of creativity and talent in last year’s offense).
The Bears may not be keeping Sims just to have him be a sparingly-used backup, either.
“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your ‘Y’ tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”
One of the more under-the-radar position battles we’ll get to see during training camp is the one at the “Y” tight end (in-line) between Sims and Shaheen. Both will play in 2018, and we may see each rotate through with the first-team offense, but don’t be surprised if you show up to Olivet Nazarene University for practice and see more of Sims working with Trubisky than Shaheen.
3. Can Adam Shaheen make a leap in Year 2?
Shaheen will have to earn himself regular season playing time during training camp for the reasons outlined in question No. 2. While he and Trubisky showed a decent connection in 2017, he only was targeted 14 times — the product of some combination of him not being ready for more snaps and a conservative coaching staff being reticent to give him an extended rope. Shaheen still led the Bears with three receiving touchdowns, but as mentioned above, all three of those scores came from within the two-yard line.
So there’s still a lot for Shaheen to prove in 2018. To his credit, the jump from Division II to the NFL was significant, and with a full year of practices, games and training under his belt, Shaheen said he feels far better prepared for Year 2 than Year 1.
“It’s so much different for me this year, at least from a mental standpoint,” Shaheen said. “And knowing what I needed to do physically this offseason and doing what I had to do, and then coming out here, even with the new offense it just feels a lot slower.”