The hardest part about rookie Adam Shaheen’s jump from small-college football to the NFL isn’t the bigger, faster players.
“It’s the first day of full pads,” the Bears tight end said. “There are long meetings in the morning and then a walk-through, and we’ve got practice. It’s a tough day. You learn about how much of a grind this is and if you’ve got what it takes.”
It’s too early to know whether the second-round pick does. The sample size is tiny, but that’s part of the problem. Through two games, Shaheen has played only 10 percent of the Bears’ offense snaps — a mere 13 downs. He hasn’t been targeted on a single pass.
“It’s just the way the game has been playing out,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said.
In last Sunday’s 29-7 blowout loss in Tampa, the Bears wanted Zach Miller and Dion Sims on the field, in that order, when forced to throw most of the second half. Shaheen is clearly the Bears’ third tight end.
Coach John Fox said Shaheen’s playing time is a function of “how we view the people ahead of him” and mused that Shaheen probably would have played more last year.
“Where he is right now, it’s kind of like [running back] Tarik [Cohen],” Loggains said. “With these young players, you’ve got to give them a role, because they can’t handle everything.”
Cohen’s role has been a revelation. Shaheen’s, thus far, has been a blip.
“Adam’s done a good job,” Loggains said. “We need to play him a little bit more — and we will. As it keeps going on, his role will get better every week, hopefully.”
The Bears didn’t draft Shaheen to star in Week 3. After playing three years at Division II Ashland following a basketball stint, he was a long-term investment that required patience.
But with their two starting receivers on injured reserve, the Bears need every pass-catching weapon they can find — particularly a 6-6, 278-pound matchup nightmare.
“When my number’s called, I can take advantage of it — not only me, but all the tight ends as a whole,” Shaheen said. “Having that size advantage is definitely something teams are afraid of in the red zone.”
Seeking to replenish their draft capital after giving up four picks to select quarterback Mitch Trubisky at No. 2 overall, the Bears traded the fourth pick of the second round to the Cardinals, along with a seventh-rounder, to fall nine spots and draft Shaheen. The Cardinals sent over a fourth-rounder, a sixth-rounder and a 2018 fourth-rounder.
Half of the 12 players selected ahead of Shaheen in the second round have started for their teams this season. The only healthy player who has played fewer snaps than Shaheen is the man the Cardinals drafted with the Bears’ pick, safety Budda Baker.
Preseason games helped Shaheen to adjust to NFL speed, but it wasn’t the same.
“I think everybody is playing fast, but it gets turned up a notch in the regular season, especially when you’re going up against their best people,” he said. “Not just in the fourth quarter [of a preseason game], going against guys that are trying to stay alive. Definitely ups the ante.”
According to ESPN, Miller has run a route on 82.1 percent of his snaps, the most of any regular tight end. Sims, the Bears’ best blocking tight end, has only two catches but has played 60 percent of the snaps.
Blocking is Shaheen’s role, for now. He has the talent to do it, Miller said.
“He’s very capable,” he said. “You’ve got to get that feel, though. The only way that you can do that is to play football.”
Shaheen was more aggressive in his run blocks against the Buccaneers, a lesson learned from Week 1.
“That’s just how it has to be,” Shaheen said. “Eat or be eaten.”
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