Trey Burton

Bears pick up the tempo, and production, on offense

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USA TODAY

Bears pick up the tempo, and production, on offense

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – The dominance of the Bears’ defense during camp ’19 has been a one-note samba for the most part, with the offense having its way on occasional plays but rarely establishing anything close to the kind of successful rhythm that coaches and players crave and every offense needs, or else.

On the last training-camp practice open to the public, attended by a camp-high 9,141, the offense showed progress discernable to the naked eye, without the filter of coach-speak or qualified assessments.

Coach Matt Nagy gave the offense an edge of sorts by increasing the tempo of plays in team sessions, interspersed with several “breaks” in which Nagy gathered the offense together for brief resets.

“Sometimes I’ll do that just to give our guys a little bit of a break and talk through the next play,” Nagy said, then deadpanned, “and if it’s a good play and it works, then it looks like I called the play and it’s not scripted.”

Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and most of his huddle mates temperamentally prefer pace. According to Pro Football Focus, the offense ran 36 no-huddle snaps in 2018. Of the seven run plays from no-huddle, two went for touchdowns and two for first downs. Passing out of no-huddle was less successful overall but produced 8.7 yards per attempt, significantly more than the 6.8 yards per attempt coming out of the huddle.

The results on Saturday, whether because of the tempo change or whatever, were arguably at least incrementally better than too many of camp’s sessions. Using an informal measure of about 4 yards as the standard for a “successful” play, and tracking just the No. 1 unit, the offense in the first team session was successful on only three plays, vs. eight stops by the defense, including one near interception of Mitchell Trubisky.

In the second No. 1 team session, the offense “won” five plays, the defense five as well. In the third session, the offense netted the four-yard standard six times, vs. three stops by the defense.

“We had a good practice, great weather,” Nagy said. “We did some uptempo stuff just to change things up a little bit for the guys, the monotony of it, and I think they handled it well for the most part.”

Not insignificantly perhaps, the day concluded with just one total interception for the three offensive units, led by Trubisky, Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray.

Also not insignificantly, the offense was managing its steps forward without a full measure of No. 2 wide receiver Anthony Miller, who was sidelined during practice with an unspecified foot issue, and without tight end Trey Burton, still being held out after offseason hernia surgery.

“I've played in this offense for four years now, I believe, so I know it like the back of my hand for the most part,” Burton said. “I just can't wait to get back out there.”

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Where Bears’ tight end depth stands while ‘protecting’ Trey Burton

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USA Today

Where Bears’ tight end depth stands while ‘protecting’ Trey Burton

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Bears coach Matt Nagy said Trey Burton hasn’t had a setback from offseason sports hernia surgery after he missed his third practice in a row on Monday, explaining the Bears will exercise caution with the 27-year-old tight end leading up to Sept. 5’s season opener against the Green Bay Packers. 

“I'm trying to protect him a little bit,” Nagy said. “I need him and we need him 100 percent for Week 1. We feel that way. But I said it the other day, he didn't do a lot with the surgery and everything for five months. It's hard to come back and just be thrusted in and try to look like yourself. 

“We're trying to slowly do it. We'll pick it up. We'll start getting him more reps as we go here. But I'm protecting him right now.”

Burton participated in the Bears’ first six practices and didn’t appear to show any lingering issues from his offseason surgery. That the Bears are being cautious with him isn’t anything new — the team did the same with linebacker Roquan Smith and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch in 2018’s training camp, for instance — but Burton’s status became noteworthy given his early participation here in Bourbonnais. 

With Burton missing time, and Adam Shaheen sitting out a few practices with a balky lower back, the Bears have been able to find a silver lining, though. The bottom of their tight end depth chart is untested: Bradley Sowell is a converted offensive lineman, while Dax Raymond, Ian Bunting and Ellis Richardson are all undrafted free agents. 

So with Burton and Shaheen out at various times, the Bears have been able to not only get a look at those guys, but evaluate how they work with Mitch Trubisky and the first-team offense. 

“It’s good to have those guys out there getting these reps because they’re valuable, valuable reps,” tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride said. “… It’s not just what to do, it’s how to do it. So you get a lot more advanced if you get those reps individually rather than watching them and getting the coaching points off of somebody else doing it.”

It’s highly unlikely Burton plays in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers, and how much Shaheen plays will be important to note, too (expect, then, to see a lot of Ben Braunecker). The Bears will be interested in how Sowell fares — especially in the passing game — and then how Bunting and Raymond can do holding the point of attack as run blockers. 

The Bears know what they have in Burton, provided he’s healthy. They don’t quite know what they have in Sowell, Bunting and Raymond. They’ll begin to figure out the answer to that question in earnest starting Thursday night. 

“You want to see how they perform, how they react in the game environment,” Gilbride said. “It’s good to see when we get the pads on just their level of toughness and their level of finish, and I’m referring to Dax and Ian when they’re playing in-line, because we didn’t necessarily know if they were going to be finishing tough guys. But during these practices we’ve seen that they have that in them. And now I just gotta get it out them play in, play out.” 

While Trey Burton isn't 100 percent, Bears believe he's on the rise

While Trey Burton isn't 100 percent, Bears believe he's on the rise

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — While Trey Burton isn’t feeling 100 percent yet, he said there’s “no doubt” he’ll be ready for the Bears’ season opener Sept. 5 against the Green Bay Packers. 

Burton in May underwent sports hernia surgery — which was related to the injury that kept him out of the Bears’ playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles — and missed all of his team's offseason program practices during the spring. He targeted a return for Day 1 of training camp, so just getting on the field for Friday’s closed-to-the-public practice at Olivet Nazarene University represented a target met in his recovery. 

Still, the Bears and Burton will be cautious as they work to get one of the more critical pieces of their offense back into football shape in the coming weeks. 

Whatever that looks like — perhaps a rest day here or there, or not participating in any/all preseason games, or even just a targeted number of practice reps — remains to be seen. But the Bears know what they have in Burton as he enters Year 2 with the team, while they haven’t figured out what they have in a guy like undrafted rookie Dax Raymond yet. 

Armed with that knowledge of his “U” tight end, coach Matt Nagy can better tailor certain aspects of his offense to what Burton does best. 

“He’s on the rise,” Nagy said. “So, as close as everybody thinks our offense is with Philadelphia and what he came from, there’s a lot of similarities. But at the same time, I’m learning who he was, what his strengths and weaknesses are. I said it with Alex (Smith) and Mitch (Trubisky), learning how they’re different and how they’re the same. 

“Well it’s the same thing with (Travis) Kelce and Trey. They’re both very good tight ends, but they’re different. So now I think I have a better feel on what Trey does well, along with our quarterback having a better feel.”

Consider Burton a good example, then, of what the Bears being collectively in Year 2 of this offense can look like. As Nagy said, Burton signed with the Bears in 2018 after finding some success in Doug Pederson’s Eagles offense, which came from the same Andy Reid coaching tree as Nagy’s. And while in Kansas City, Nagy had one of the league’s best tight ends at his disposal in Kelce — the film of whom the Bears had to watch a year ago without any tape of their own yet. 

“It’s cool because they’re not watching the Chiefs, they’re watching the Bears,” Nagy said. 

Burton is one of four players on the Bears to have played in and won a Super Bowl (the others: wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback Prince Amukamara), allowing him to provide an important perspective on a team with legitimate aspirations of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February. While Burton’s significant importance to the Bears’ offense is clear, that Super Bowl experience is frequently pointed to by Nagy. And as the Bears figure out how to handle the weight of their 2019 Super Bowl expectations, they believe Burton can make a positive impact in that regard, too. 

“I think it’s pretty new for a lot of us to be — I wouldn’t say a favorite, but in contention, a team that has a chance to win a Super Bowl,” Burton said. “I know us as a group have definitely embraced it. I know Nagy has embraced it. We kinda go off him. However he feeds us. However he feels we kind of follow. We have his back. A lot of guys are excited. This is new territory for a lot of people, and it’s a lot of fun.”