Adam Shaheen

Bears place Adam Shaheen and Sherrick McManis on IR

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USA TODAY

Bears place Adam Shaheen and Sherrick McManis on IR

The Bears made several roster moves on Saturday, placing tight end Adam Shaheen and defensive back Sherrick McManis on injured reserve (IR) and adding two players to the active roster. Shaheen's injury is related to his foot, while McManis was hurt against New York Giants in Week 12. 

McManis is in his eighth season as a member of the Bears. In 2019 he has played in nine games, amassing 11 (combined) tackles, one pass deflection, and one forced fumble. 

Shaheen is the oft-discussed tight end who was the Bears second-round draft pick in 2017 and he has failed to produce up to this point in his career. This marks the second-straight year that Shaheen has been placed on IR. Shaheen has played a total of 27 games over his three NFL seasons.

With Shaheen and McManis going to IR, the Bears signed offensive lineman Corey Levin and tight end Eric Saubert to the active roster. 

Levin, who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the sixth round in 2017, was previously on the Broncos practice squad.

Saubert, who was born in Chicago and played at Hoffman Estates High School, was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the fifth round in 2017. After playing with the Falcons for two seasons, Saubert was one the Oakland Raiders practice squad before getting picked up by the Bears

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Bears “structural” flaws, poor decisions, questionable philosophy at TE

Bears “structural” flaws, poor decisions, questionable philosophy at TE

The offensive struggles of the 2019 Bears are at this point an over-analyzed issue, most recently spiking with a week’s worth of debate over up-tempo/no-huddle concepts. Within those, the specific difficulties of the tight end position have been saturation-covered.

Those difficulties, unfortunately, are compounded by what might best be described as “structural” flaws in the organization’s approach to the tight end position, ones that require some serious reexamination before the expected push to upgrade the position next offseason.

The flaws are deeper than whether Adam Shaheen is a bust or Trey Burton was or wasn’t a high-priced miss in free agency. They involve what GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy appear to be using for templates at the position.

The Bears are simply approaching the tight end with some questionable philosophical ideas.

Translation: The Bears are thinking too small and too specialized at a position that should figure prominently into their ability to use a no-huddle or up-tempo tactic. Add to the fact that when the Bears actually have gone after the “right-sized” tight end, their choices have been bad.

The result is a problem at a pivotal position in a complex offense with enough other problems. Their big tight ends can’t catch; their smaller ones can’t block.

“I don’t know if it inhibits play calling,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. “It just inhibits certain things.”

Matt Nagy and the Bears have effectively gone about bringing in a myriad of different types of tight ends, with the apparent idea of using those types in defined situations. That suggests, however, defined roles that even average defensive coordinators and middle linebackers can figure out, and the NFL doesn’t have a lot of “average.”

The top offenses in the NFL have built that position on a different model.

Some NFL context:

Of roughly the top dozen or so tight ends based chiefly on receptions, all but the Giants’ Evan Engram and Ram’s Gerald Everett (both 6-foot-3, 240 pounds) are between 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6 and between 250 and 265 pounds. The result is that Baltimore’s Mark Andrews (6-foot-4, 256), San Francisco’s George Kittle (6-foot-4, 250), Tampa Bay’s O.J. Howard (6-foot-6, 251), Kansas City’s Travis Kelce (6-foot-5, 260), New England’s Ben Watson (6-foot-4, 255), Dallas’ Jason Witten 6-foot-6, 263), Seattle’s Will Dissly (6-foot-4, 265), Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph (6-foot-6, 255) – the NFL’s top eight scoring offenses – are every-down tight ends with the size to block in the run game and be threats as receivers. Carolina’s Greg Olson (6-foot-5, 255), the Chargers’ Hunter Henry (6-foot-5, 250), the Raiders’ Darren Waller (6-foot-6, 255), and so on….

By contrast, the Bears pursued Burton for major money to fill Nagy’s notion of a “U” tight end, what Nagy describes as something of a wideout/tight end hybrid. One commentator dubbed it a “transformative” concept. Not quite.

Burton is smaller (6-foot-2, 238) than either Engram or Engram and is a blocker liability in the run game, vaguely reminiscent of a Ryan Wetnight – decent receiver, try-hard-but-marginal blocker. Recently added Jesper Horsted is more of the same – 6-foot-3, 237. And neither Burton nor Horsted has demonstrated separation-quality moves or speed to put them sufficiently beyond the reach and cover abilities of the current model of typical outside linebacker or safety. The “U” concept sounds good until someone pulls out the list of the NFL’s best, which generally aren’t so specialized or limited.

Shaheen is ideal size (6-foot-6, 257) but is a health and receiving liability (26 receptions in 27 career games) without adequate compensating blocking impact. Dion Sims (6-foot-5, 270), same. When Pace has gone after the physical fit, the choices have flopped.

The size factor is significant if Nagy is intent on upping the tempo and downing the huddle. With either Burton (now on IR) or Horsted, going no-huddle eliminates options in the run game. By contrast, Baltimore (Andrews, and obviously Lamar Jackson), San Francisco and Minnesota are three of the NFL’s top four rushing offenses. Indianapolis is No. 3 with Jack Doyle (6-foot-6, 262) playing 70 percent of the snaps.

Ben Braunecker is only slightly more physical at 6-foot-4, 240’ish. Then again the Bears are 2-1 when Braunecker starts, so there is that…

Converted tackle Bradley Sowell (6-foot-7, 280) and actual tackle Cornelius Lucas (6-foot-8, 327) are fine for tight ends in “heavy” packages, but aren't exactly threats to Mike Ditka, Des Clark or Martellus Bennett on the Bears’ all-time list for TE receptions.

J.P. Holtz, listed at 255 pounds, is as close to an every-down-sized tight end as the Bears have, with Braunecker, in concussion protocol this week, used that way as well, just with not the mass that Holtz brings. But Holtz has brought nothing to the pass game (nine games, 2 receptions).

Nagy is a practitioner of the personnel-grouping arts, sometimes to the seeming confusion of the players in and out of those groupings. Arguably at tight end, he has little choice but to shuffle early and often because of roster construction that hasn’t staffed him with the likes of a one-size-fits-all Bennett, Clark, Ditka or Olson.

“You have to maneuver some things on what you want to do,” Nagy said. “It makes it a little bit more challenging, but that’s where we’re at.” 

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How will the Bears replace Trey Burton and, potentially, David Montgomery against the Rams?

How will the Bears replace Trey Burton and, potentially, David Montgomery against the Rams?

The Bears will be without tight ends Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen against the Los Angeles Rams, and running back David Montgomery will be a gametime decision prior to Sunday night’s contest in California. 

Burton missed all three of the Bears’ practices this week with a calf injury suffered at the end of the Bears’ win over the Detroit Lions last week, while Shaheen popped up on the injury report with a foot issue and missed both Thursday and Friday’s practices. Montgomery rolled his ankle during practice Wednesday, was held out of Thursday’s practice and then returned in a limited fashion on Friday. 

The upshot here is the Bears may need to take a deep dive into their depth at tight end and running back just to staff those positions for a game they can’t afford to lose. The emphasis, though, is on the word “may.” 

Coach Matt Nagy has frequently referred to the “U” tight end position — which Burton plays — as an important “adjuster” in his offense. But he indicated the Bears could look at other positions to be that “adjuster,” meaning the Bears wouldn’t necessarily need to lean on, say, current practice squad tight end Jesper Horsted on Sunday. 

The Bears were already without Shaheen last weekend when they decided to make him a healthy scratch on gameday, and had Ben Braunecker and J.P. Holtz take over the 2017 second-round pick’s snaps as an in-line (“Y”) tight end. Braunecker has the flexibility to step in for Burton at the “U,” so the Bears could wind up feeling okay about having him and Holtz as their two primary tight ends on Sunday. Bradley Sowell is on the roster, too, and could be active for the first time since Week 2 a backup "Y." 

Meaning: Those waiting for Horsted to get a shot two and a half months after his impressive preseason ended may be left wanting. 

“Jesper’s just now learning the position,” tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride said this week, while also praising his work ethic and desire to improve. 
So the best bet here is Horsted gets called up to the active roster but isn’t a significant part of the Bears’ gameplan on Sunday. Notably, though, Nagy did not dismiss the idea of placing Burton on injured reserve — which would end his season — when asked on Friday. 

“It’s been frustrating for Trey,” Nagy said. “You can understand that. And it has been frustrating for us, which you can understand that as well. They’ll be some decisions that we’ve got to collaborate — we’ve got to get together and just talk it through and see what’s best for him and what’s best for us and then decide on that.”

If Burton were to go on injured reserve, it would give Horsted a better chance to be evaluated in 2019 with an eye on if he could contribute in 2020. 

The same goes for Ryan Nall, the second-year undrafted free agent who could play his first regular season snaps on offense if Montgomery is not able to go on Sunday. But the Bears aren’t at the point of looking ahead of 2020 yet, not while they still have a chance — albeit a small one — of reaching the playoffs. 

So instead of Nall, that could mean the Bears use Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson as their primary running backs, even if neither is prototypical at the position. 

“There's definite opportunities there (for Patterson),” Nagy said. “Again, there's some flexibility in our roster and the versatility that we have. It can sometimes make it a little bit difficult as a play-caller, as a schemer as to what you want to do, but when things like this come up out of nowhere and they're unfortunate, you just have to be able to not flinch.”

(As an aside: The Bears still made the correct call in releasing veteran Mike Davis last week, as doing so indicates they believe they’ll receive a compensatory draft pick in 2020 through the league’s complex, secretive formula.)

The Bears are 4-5 and have a greater than zero percent chance of making the playoffs (Football Outsiders has it at 3.6 percent entering the weekend). Once this team’s hopes in 2019 are extinguished, then it’ll be time for them to start looking at players like Horsted and Nall who haven’t got a chance this year but perhaps could in 2020. 

But they’re not there yet, meaning it’s not yet to time start throwing undrafted free agents on the field to see what they can do. 

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