Know Your Bears — The Tight Ends

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Zach Miller had 47 receptions for 486 yards and fgour touchdowns in 10 games, but suffered a foot injury vs. the Giants that ended his season. (Bill Kostroun/AP)

Third in a position-by-position series of training-camp capsules on every player on the Bears’ 90-man roster. The Bears open training camp on July 27 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.


Tight end     Ninth year

6-5, 243       Nebraska-Omaha

Acquired: Signed to a futures contract after the 2013 season ended.

Age: 32

NFL experience: 58 games (27 starts) in eight seasons.

Background: A former college quarterback drafted in the sixth round (180th overall) by the Jaguars in 2010, Miller had 41 receptions for 428 yards and three touchdowns in his first two seasons, but missed most of the next four seasons with injuries, including his first season with the Bears in 2014. He outperformed Martellus Bennett in 2015 (34-439, 12.9, five touchdowns) and was on pace for a bigger year in 2016 (47-486, 10.3, four touchdowns) when he suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 11.

Notable: Miller has played in 58 of a possible 128 regular-season games in his eight-year NFL career and has yet to play 16 games in a season.

The skinny: Bears seem to have moved on — signing Dion Sims to a three-year, $18 million contract ($10 million guaranteed) and drafting Adam Shaheen in the second round. But if Miller is healthy, he could be a much-needed veteran safety valve for newcomer Mike Glennon. Despite his production when healthy, Miller probably needs to have a really good camp to stick.



Tight end      Fifth year

6-4, 271         Michigan State

Acquired: Signed to a three-year, $18 million contract ($10 million guaranteed) as a free agent in 2017.

Age: 26

NFL experience: 56 games (22 starts) in four seasons.

Background: A fourth-round draft pick (106th overall) by the Dolphins in 2013, Sims was an effective in-line blocker in four seasons with the Dolphins — he never had more than 36 targets in a season. He was a bigger factor in the passing game last season — 26 receptions for 256 yards (9.8 avg.) and four touchdowns. The Dolphins were interested in re-signing Sims, but the Bears’ offer was too rich for their blood.

Notable: Sims caught all four of his touchdown passes in a four game stretch late in the season that coincided with the Dolphins’ run of seven victories in eight games that propelled them to the playoffs.

The skinny: Sims should solidify the in-line blocking tight end position. And he’s a good enough athlete — an all-state wing player in high school who dabbled in hoops at Michigan State — to at least be a threat in the passing game. He doesn’t have the intrigue of Adam Shaheen, but his role can’t be underestimated in this offense.



Tight end      Rookie

6-6, 277         Ashland (Ohio)

Acquired: Second-round draft pick (45th overall) in 2017.

Age: 23

NFL experience: None.

Background: A two-sport star at 6-5, 195 in high school, Shaheen played basketball at Pitt-Johnstown because that was his only scholarship offer in football or basketball. Transferred to Ashland as a walk-on and became a Division II sensation as he grew to 6-6, 277. Led all NCAA tight ends in receptions in 2015 (70 catches, 803 yards, 11.5 avg., 10 touchdowns); set a DII record for touchdowns in 2016 (57-867, 15.2, 16 TDs). Turned pro with a year of eligibility left. 

Notable: Good athlete who turned into a freak — as a high school senior, Shaheen had pick-6s in back-to-back games (84 and 48 yards) as a 6-5 defensive back and scored 44 points in a basketball game. Finance major and academic All-American.

The skinny: He’ll need to adjust to the speed of the NFL, but the Bears expect his skills to be universal — soft hands, hand-eye coordination, ability to win jump balls, competitiveness, run-after-the-catch — and are counting on Shaheen becoming a contributor as a rookie. He seems to have the temperament to handle this.



Tight end      Third year

6-5, 243         James Madison

Acquired: Claimed off waivers (Ravens) in Week 8 of 2016.

Age: 25

NFL experience: 14 games (four starts) in two seasons.

Background: Signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2015, Brown was promoted from the practice squad for the final six games (one start) and caught six passes for 64 yards. He was cut by the Ravens in Week 7 last season and signed by the Bears. He played the final six games and had 16 receptions for 124 yards and his first NFL touchdown, a seven-yard pass from Matt Barkley against the Titans.

Notable: In his first start with the Bears, Brown had six receptions for 42 yards against the Lions at Ford Field. His longest catch was 12 yards in the season finale against the Vikings.

The skinny: Pending Zach Miller’s status, Brown will be in a dogfight with Ben Braunecker and MyCole Pruitt for the third or fourth tight end spot. He’s the most productive of the three, but not by a lot. Still, he showed improvement in the offseason program and warrants a good look in camp and the preseason.



Tight end      Third year

6-2, 258         Southern Illinois

Acquired: Signed from the Vikings practice squad in Week 15 in 2017.

Age: 25

NFL experience: 20 games (three starts) in two seasons.

Background: A fifth-round draft pick by the Vikings in 2015, Pruitt played in 16 games and made three starts as a rookie (10 receptions, 89 yards, no touchdowns). He was cut by the Vikings in 2016 and signed to their practice squad. The Bears signed him to their 53-man roster last December.

Notable: Pruitt was the fastest tight end in the 2015 draft, running a 4.52 40 at the Combine — he also had a 38-inch vertical. Led all Division I tight ends in receptions (81), yards (861) and touchdowns (13) in 2014 at Southern Illinois.

The skinny: Pruitt is a good athlete with excellent lower-body strength, which gives him potential to be above average as a blocker and pass receiver. But he’s in a tough spot behind Zach Miller (assuming he’s healthy), rookie Adam Shaheen and free agent Dion Sims. Still, his versatility and H-back potential might make him the best option to keep around in case of an injury.



Tight end     Second year

6-4, 255       Harvard

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016.

Age: 24

NFL experience: 13 games (two starts) in two seasons.

Background: Was signed to the practice squad after missing most of training camp with an ankle injury and was promoted to the 53-man roster in Week 4. Used mostly on special teams until Zach Miller suffered a season-ending injury, Braunecker caught four passes for 41 yards and no touchdowns as a rookie. His long play was a 14-yard catch against the Titans in Week 12.

Notable: Braunecker’s 210 snaps on special teams were the sixth most on the team, behind veterans Sherrick McManis, Chris Prosinski, Christian Jones, Josh Bellamy and Sam Acho. He had four tackles.

The skinny: Braunecker took advantage of a weak tight end group last year in the wake of Martellus Bennett’s departure to get an opportunity, but he’s in a little tougher here, especially if Zach Miller is healthy. Despite his experience last season, he faces an uphill battle to make the roster, though still eligible for the practice squad.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.



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