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.”