Everywhere you look, the Bears are solid at worst and even have some star power at most positions with one exception.
They may turn out to be just fine, or even better, at tight end, but it is the one position where there has to be at least some concern that the Bears may not be good enough to allow Matt Nagy to run his offense the way he hopes to.
If you doubt there are concerns about this spot up at Halas Hall, consider the team went to its veteran minicamp in mid-June with more undrafted rookie free agents at the position – Dax Raymond, Ian Bunting, Ellis Richardson and Jesper Horsted – than it had vets who’ve lined up there in an NFL game – Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Ben Braunecker.
Nagy and Co. are concerned enough that they’ve even decided to have veteran offensive tackle Bradley Sowell try to drop about 30 pounds and give the spot a whirl.
Last year’s No. 1 in Bourbonnais, Dion Sims, is gone, as is Daniel Brown, and team- and fan-favorite Zach Miller made his retirement official after last season.
The good news is all is nowhere near lost.
Burton is one of the best move tight ends in the game and should be even better this year than he was in his first year with the Bears.
This group actually could end up being very good ... or not good enough and will bear more scrutiny during the exhibition season than any other position, but until then, here are three burning questions the Bears must answer:
1. Can Shaheen stay on the field, and if he does, is he ready to complete the massive leap from Ashland College to the NFL?
After battling several nagging injuries and a huge learning curve as a rookie, he was off to a great start and actually was one of the most impressive players in camp last year before suffering a serious foot/ankle injury in the second exhibition in Denver.
Shaheen returned from the injured reserve list after midseason last year and showed significant improvement as a blocker, but caught only five passes and rarely was targeted.
There must be some concern that what looked like an extremely high ceiling while playing in college translates poorly to the NFL.
He really is the only player on the roster with the size and skill to be an excellent run blocker while also becoming a significant threat in the passing game, able to stay on the field 60 minutes in 11 or 12 personnel and force safeties and linebackers to account for him.
There are two questions here: Can he stay healthy and did general manager Ryan Pace get it right selecting him as high as he did in the draft?
2. Are the Bears serious about Sowell at tight end, or is he only a security blanket for 12 personnel in running situations if they can’t find a legitimate No. 2? (Burton is outstanding in 11 or 12 personnel in passing situations, but he’s not a serious option as the every down guy should Shaheen get dinged again.)
Sowell obviously can handle whatever blocking duties may be necessary, and he is a good athlete, but it’s a long way from being the hero when Nagy pulled “Santa’s Sleigh” out of his bag of tricks last year and learning the full route tree, finding enough speed to be successful running those routes and then proving he has the kind of hands to be a dependable target for Mitch Trubisky.
Honestly, this is a long shot at best.
3. Is Raymond the Bears’ UDFA everyone should be watching this season?
Pace has had exceptional success finding gems in the late rounds and among his priority free agents, and many believe this kid is next in line.
We are high on him at Pro Football Weekly, having ranked him as a potential fourth-round draft choice in this year’s draft.
At 24, he is an “older” rookie, but he showed good receiving skills at Utah State, and at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, he has the size and length to gain leverage and strength to become a solid blocker.
The TE corps will be among the best in football if ... Shaheen stays healthy and becomes the player Pace thinks he can be, and Raymond turns out to be a steal. This weakness could prove to be one of the stronger positions on the team with the two of them sandwiched around Burton.
The wheels will fall off this season if ... Shaheen disappoints and none of the rookies can play. If that happens, the Bears will be shopping the waiver wires after final cuts and trying to hide this position all season.