Before Mitch Trubisky sparked a short-lived quarterback controversy, running back Tarik Cohen dazzled in Jordan Howard’s absence and Eddie Jackson earned starting snaps at safety, tight end Adam Shaheen was the rookie worth highlighting.
Shaheen, the Bears’ second-round pick in April, gave veteran linebacker Jerrell Freeman problems over the middle during the offseason program and boxed out veteran safety Quintin Demps on a one-handed catch in the end zone in training camp.
So what happened? Compared to his fellow rookies, Shaheen has had a quiet preseason. He has three catches for 18 yards and failed to corral a blocked punt in the end zone Sunday against the Titans.
Shaheen, a 6-6, 270-pounder, just hasn’t made any big plays. Undrafted rookie receiver Tanner Gentry has been more impressive on game day.
Still, it’s not time to worry about Shaheen — not yet, at least. If anything, the other rookies’ success has masked the progress he is making. In a way, it’s as though the Bears have been hiding him, so opponents can’t see what’s coming.
Shaheen’s ‘‘slow’’ preseason is part of the Bears’ plan for him. They already know he’s a skilled receiver; the goal is to make him a capable blocker by the regular-season opener.
‘‘Definitely a lot to work on,’’ said Shaheen, who often spends time with tight ends coach Frank Smith after practice on his blocking fundamentals. ‘‘But I definitely have the size, and I can do it. It’s just a matter of perfecting it and really being consistent with it, instead of just one play great, one play OK, one play you missed a guy.’’
Most rookie tight ends face considerable hurdles early on, particularly with blocking. It’s similar to the challenges young offensive tackles face because of the widespread use of no-huddle, up-tempo offenses at the college level.
Shaheen also faces an adjustment coming from Division II Ashland (Ohio). He rarely blocked there, and his size and athleticism made him naturally imposing when he did.
With the Bears, there is an emphasis on ‘‘your footwork, hand placement and then, obviously, knowing your assignment,’’ Shaheen said.
At this point, the Bears have been pleasantly surprised by Shaheen’s development. Several plays in the Bears’ victory against Titans showed he already has earned offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ trust.
On tight end Dion Sims’ one-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, Shaheen kept Titans outside linebacker Brian Orakpo out of the backfield. It was an important assignment on the back side of a play-action play.
Shaheen’s blocking also was a factor in Trubisky’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Gentry in the fourth quarter. He successfully warded off outside linebacker Kevin Dodd without any assistance.
Of course, Shaheen’s pass-catching skills are what make him valuable, especially with receiver Cam Meredith (torn anterior cruciate ligament) lost for the season. But Shaheen said those can improve, too.
‘‘There’s just so much more that goes into it at this level,’’ Shaheen said. ‘‘It’s using leverage, setting [the defender] up, doubling him up, head fakes. [It’s] all kinds of different stuff and techniques that I’m just now getting a hold of, so that I don’t have to a box a guy out every single time I catch the ball.’’
Shaheen also had a bad habit of fully extending his arms to create separation in college. That can result in offensive pass interference in the NFL.
‘‘It’s just learning how to not fully extend but still get that same separation with a little flip of the wrist or the elbow,’’ he said.
Overall, the preseason has helped Shaheen. It has been considerably different from his days at Ashland.
‘‘It’s great to get in there and kind of settle in and just get all those nerves out of the way,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s the best thing for the rookies.’’
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