Daniel Brown

Bears grades and needs: Improved depth necessary at tight end

Bears grades and needs: Improved depth necessary at tight end

2018 depth chart

1. Trey Burton
Usage: 16 games, 80 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $8.675 million cap hit

No skill position player not named Mitch Trubisky was on the field for more offensive snaps than Burton (860, 30 more than Taylor Gabriel), and 54 catches for 569 yards with six touchdowns represented solid production from the “U” tight end spot in Matt Nagy’s offense. He didn’t drop a pass until Week 12, and Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel combined for a 111.2 passer rating when throwing his direction, per Pro Football Focus. He may not have had a spectacular Travis Kelce-like season, but he was an important part of the offense in the first year of his four-year, $32 million deal. 

The issue with Burton was what happened after his groin locked up less than 48 hours before the Bears kicked off their wild card game against the Eagles. His absence was capitalized on by Philadelphia’s defense, which shifted its focus to Tarik Cohen and largely took the versatile playmaker out of the Bears’ offense. Worth noting: During the regular season, only 89 of Cohen’s 495 snaps came without Burton on the field (18 percent). 

Burton still may have some upside to his game, especially as Nagy’s offense evolves beyond the “Football 101” foundation it laid in 2018. But the Bears have to be able to better deal with losing Burton on short notice going forward. 

2. Adam Shaheen
Usage: 6 games, 14.9 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $1,611,965 cap hit

Shaheen’s 2018 wasn’t a completely lost year in his development, given he was able to learn Nagy’s offense through OTAs and training camp. But the foot injury he suffered against the Broncos — after two days of joint practices in which he looked good against Denver’s defense — wiped out the first nine games of the season. When he returned, he suffered a concussion converting a two-point attempt against the Vikings, which held him out of another game. 

That leaves Shaheen’s outlook in question heading into an important 2019. The upside is there, but he has to improve as a blocker and a route-runner, with this next round of OTAs and camps critical in that development. A healthy and effective Shaheen would give Nagy the option of running more two-tight personnel groupings, which could help aid the run game. 

The Bears, though, may need to bring in some insurance behind Shaheen at the “Y” (in-line) spot given he’s missed 13 games in his two-year career.

3. Dion Sims
Usage: 8 games, 18.1 percent of offensive snaps, 15.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $6,333,334 cap hit

The Bears will save $6 million in cap space by releasing Sims, per Spotrac. He’s been ineffective with the Bears, and only stuck on the 2018 roster thanks to the team having enough cap space to keep him. 

4. Ben Braunecker
Usage: 15 games, 11.1 percent of offensive snaps, 56.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Restricted free agent

Braunecker was the next man up at both the “U” and the “Y” spots, giving him the important trait of versatility as a backup. He played 21 snaps on offense in Burton’s playoff absence, and from Weeks 9-11 (when Sims was out and Shaheen was eased back into the offense, only to suffer a concussion) he took most of the “Y” snaps. He also was a core special teamer, with only Josh Bellamy and Benny Cunningham playing a higher percentage of special teams snaps. 

OverTheCap projects the 2019 original round tender — which would be what Braunecker, a former undrafted free agent, would receiver — would be $2.035 million. Is that money worth it for a team that, after releasing Sims, will only have about $11 million in cap space? The Bears could try to not tender Braunecker and bring him back on a cheaper deal after he made $630,000 in 2018. 

5. Daniel Brown
Usage: 14 games, 2.1 percent of offensive snaps, 52.5 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Brown showed some receiving upside in 2016 and 2017, catching 29 passes for 253 yards while playing a little over 500 snaps for the Bears those two seasons. He only appeared 23 times on offense and wasn’t targeted in 2018, and while he was a part of the team’s special teams units the Bears may look to replace him with someone who can specifically back up Burton. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 6

The Bears need to improve their depth behind Burton and Shaheen, making this a sneaky position of need despite the money and draft capital already committed to it. 

Previous unit needs/grades: QB | RB | WR

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The five (or more) most important Bears players for the second half

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USA Today

The five (or more) most important Bears players for the second half

The Bears are 3-5 halfway through the regular season, and returned to Halas Hall on Monday after recharging during their off week. If this team is going to mount a serious shot at eight wins -- or, more ambitiously, a legitimate playoff push -- it'll need this group of players to step up in the second half of the season: 

1. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky

For all the talk of the different energy Trubisky brought to the offense, and for all the (fair) points about talent issues around him, Trubisky is 38/80 for 512 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and a rating of 66.2 through four games. The Bears were able to spend last week self-scouting and taking a bigger picture look at their rookie quarterback, and that could reveal some different ways to get Trubisky into a rhythm and help him be a more effective passer within this offense. Still, the most important thing Trubisky can do in these next eight games is not turn the ball over: It’s no coincidence the Bears are minus-43 when they turn the ball over more than two times and plus-six when they have two or fewer turnovers. 

2. [Insert a wide receiver here]

We’re not picking a specific receiver, but the Bears need at least one guy to step up from this group: Dontrelle Inman, Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Tre McBride, Tanner Gentry and Josh Bellamy. Inman hasn’t been active in a month but has the length (he’s 6-foot-3) to possibly this receiving corps go three-wide more than they did in the first half of the season. It’s easier to envision Wright — who hasn’t played much but has been the Bears’ most reliable receiver — being on the field more in the slot with Inman and Tre McBride/Tanner Gentry manning the outside. McBride showed against New Orleans he can be productive, especially when offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains schemes to get him open in space. Wheaton could return from a groin injury at some point this month, and perhaps could re-discover the skills that made him an effective deep threat in 2014 and 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bears may not have a traditional go-to receiver in this group, but there could be enough players to cobble together a relatively effective unit in the final eight games. 

3. Tight ends Adam Shaheen and Daniel Brown

With Dion Sims on pace for an average pass-catching season for him (he had nine catches for 113 yards and a touchdown; his 2013-2016 average was 18 catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns), the Bears will need either or both of Shaheen and Brown to step in and fill Zach Miller’s pass-catching shoes. Brown may be more of a direct replacement — he had 16 catches for 124 yards in six games with the Bears last year — but Shaheen carries high expectations as a second-round pick and needs to be targeted more than the two times he was in the first half of the season. Miller is third on the Bears with 20 catches and 236 yards; replacing that production would go a long way toward the success of this offense in the second half. 

4. Defensive end Akiem Hicks

Hicks played at an All-Pro level in the first half, racking up seven sacks (which tied his career high set in 2016) while being a force against the run. He’s not like everyone else on a list of players that largely needs improvement — but he was the most important player on the Bears in the first half of the season, so it stands to reason he’ll keep that spot in the second half. 

5. Kicker Connor Barth

Barth has made only 64 percent of his field goal attempts, which ranks 27th among the 29 kickers who have attempted at least 10 field goals this season. Three of his misses have been from 40-49 yards, with his other miss on a 52-yard attempt. Barth is, for now, the Bears’ kicker, but he’ll have to be better for a team that likely will find itself in a number of close games in November and December. 

Bears: How Daniel Brown spent, and survived, cut-down weekend

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USA TODAY

Bears: How Daniel Brown spent, and survived, cut-down weekend

On Friday night, Bears tight end Daniel Brown turned on his alma mater’s season opener, kept his cell phone close and tried to distract himself from the anxiety of not knowing where he would be in 48 hours. 

With Zach Miller, Dion Sims and Adam Shaheen all locked into roster spots, there was no guarantee the Bears would keep a fourth tight end. So Friday evening was, as Brown succinctly summed up, “long,” and he didn’t get a ton of sleep that night. 

“You kind of hang everything on what you did hoping that it’s good enough and wondering if you’re going to be here this year, if you’re going to be somewhere else, if you’re going to be out of a job,” Brown said. “A lot of stuff goes in your mind, but it’s really out of your control because everything you’ve done up to that point is what you can control and then after that it’s out of your control.”

Brown felt confident in what he put on tape during training camp. A midseason waiver claim from the Baltimore Ravens last year, Brown profiles as a pass catching tight end — on a team that needs pass catching help after Cameron Meredith's injury — but he felt he improved his blocking skills over the last few weeks and months. His frequent inclusion on various special teams units strengthened his bid for a roster spot, too. 

“If we’re going to keep four (tight ends), obviously the fourth man’s going to have to be a special teams guy,” Brown said. “And so knowing that, I kind of took advantage of it and really worked on it.” 

The Bears held a meeting Saturday morning and announced every player in the room had made the team. Brown made that initial cut, along with Ben Braunecker, giving the Bears five tight ends on their first 53-man roster — and opening up another round of uncertainty with waiver claims and ensuing roster moves hitting on Sunday (Braunecker was waived on Sunday and re-signed to the practice squad Monday, and Brown remained on the roster). 

“You can’t get too comfortable because the second wave of claims and cuts, you’re kind of on edge a little bit (Sunday) too,” Brown said. “But you just try to keep your mind occupied so you don’t overthink it.” 

College football proved to be a good distraction. Brown watched Saturday's marquee Alabama-Florida State game, and on Friday flipped on ESPN3 on his laptop and watched James Madison — where played from 2010-2014 — beat East Carolina, 34-14. It was one of five FCS upsets of FBS schools in college football's first full slate of games.