Bear Report. Building around ‘match-up problem’ tight ends
By Robert Zeglinski
BOURBONNAIS — Bears quarterback Mike Glennon summed it up best in regards to Chicago’s newfound tight end depth that’s evident early in camp. A dimension the Bears have lacked for awhile now has them instead possess dynamic offensive versatility down the middle.
“I think it creates matchup problems. It’ll be hard if we go in those multi-tight end sets, for (defenses) to figure out who they want to cover. Someone’s going to be on a linebacker and in our minds, that’s a favorable matchup,” Glennon said.
Indeed, with the additions of rookie second-rounder Adam Shaheen and stalwart all-around Dion Sims to the promising former undrafted free agents in Daniel Brown and Ben Braunecker, as well as the incumbent veteran Zach Miller, the Bears are enjoying a luxury they don’t have at most other positions: depth in conjunction with flexibility.
For the past two years, following a rocky ending to a relationship with former mega-bucks tight end Martellus Bennett, it’s been the savvy veteran Miller holding down the fort for Chicago. The 32-year-old Miler, however, has an extensive injury history throughout his career and has never proven to be more than a solid contributor for the team, never surpassing more than 500 yards or 50 receptions in a season.
Logistically, there was no way the Bears could go in with the same dearth of talent at a position where most elite offense’s in the NFL are actually particularly deep. To begin the plan towards making that leap to elite consistency as an offense, the Bears knew they had double down at tight end to leave their Stone Age, “archaic” offense in the past.
Based on early returns in this year’s Bears camp, that foresight of an investment has paid off quite well. Ask a newcomer like Sims, openly wowed at the prospects of his position group.
“We just have a lot of guys that can do a lot. We’re very versatile at the position. A lot of big guys with size and speed that I’ve never seen before,” said Sims.
Given the current question marks concerning a youthful Bears receiving group where the team can only count on Cameron Meredith at the moment, they’re going to have to lean on their tight ends, and heavily. Offsetting a roster weak point with hybrid athletes at tight end, that can not only act as safety valves for the quarterback, but work as quality blockers at the point of attack, is a sound thought process.
That position revolution all starts with the freakishly-built, 6-foot-6, 278-pounder in Shaheen, the Bears’ true future at tight end who caught two touchdown passes on Monday and who head coach John Fox has been impressed with.
“He’s a big target. He’s got good body control for a big man,” said Fox. “He’s got soft hands and good body control. If he’s touching the ball, he’s catching it.”
Glennon, who could use a favorite target to build rapport with, has also appreciated what the rookie has brought to the table. The small school product in Shaheen clearly belongs in the NFL.
“He’s just a big target. He’s a big man running down the field. He does a great job of using his body. He has a tall frame which makes it easy on the quarterback to throw to,” Glennon said.
It should be noted that the naturally gifted receiver in Shaheen – who caught 16 touchdowns in Division II college football at Ashland last year – still has a ways to go as a blocker. He’s going to have to round out his game before he becomes Chicago’s unparalleled starter at tight end. General manager Ryan Pace said as much during the Bears’ opening presser before camp, highlighting that Shaheen has to improve his “physicality.”
That’s where Sims, an all-around complete veteran product with heavy upside, comes in in the meantime. The 6-foot-4, 271 pound 26-year-old is renowned for his polished blocking technique that coincides with sneaky receiving ability. All he needs is the opportunity to contribute more. An opportunity the Bears are almost assuredly going to give him.
Glennon has already sung his praises as well.
“Again, another big body. Him and Adam (Shaheen) are two big bodies that even when they look like they might not be open, they’re strong enough to get open. And then, Dion’s a really good blocker as well,” said Glennon.
While the Bears work out kinks along the rest of their roster, they can begin to count on a position that’s heavily relied on in the modern NFL. This tight end group hasn’t hit elite status yet. With talents like Shaheen, it might be only a matter of time. As Sims echoes, the young man often coined “Baby Gronk” just has to get comfortable as a blocker.
“He has all of the tools, he has the size and frame, it’s just a mentality thing.”
Robert is your guy for all things Bears and he’ll be with the team all through training camp. Find him on Twitter: @RobertZeglinski.