Coming into the NFL from Ashland University with the nickname “Baby Gronk” probably wasn’t the best thing for Bears rookie tight end Adam Shaheen. There’s only one Rob Gronkowski in the NFL.
But Travis Kelce? Just from a perception standpoint, that’s a little easier sell. Gronkowski is a star because of freakish athletic ability and innate physicality; he’s the ultimate matchup nightmare. Kelce, who was named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl, is a star because he’s a skilled athlete with a great work ethic who has improved with experience and opportunity and is maxing out in a system that fits him.
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Maybe that’s selling Kelce short, but promoting Shaheen as a potential Travis Kelce seems a little more realistic, especially with former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy coaching the Bears.
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky obviously was the key reason the Bears hired Nagy. But there are some key pieces to Trubisky’s supporting cast that figure to benefit, as well: Shaheen, running back Tarik Cohen, wide receiver Cam Meredith and running back Jordan Howard. Maybe even wide receiver Kevin White. All of them are proven commodities or high draft picks with potential to become key components of a productive Bears offense. That was a lure for Nagy, too.
“The obvious thing offensively . . . you have a quarterback there that you put stock in,” Nagy said. “Your running backs — you’re good there. Your wide receivers — the same thing. There’s guys that have had some injuries.”
Though the Bears ranked 30th in total offense and 29th in points, Nagy is not inheriting a rebuild. With the exception of a few wide receivers and a piece here or there, Nagy’s first Bears offense will have many of the same players.
Nagy and his offensive staff will be charged with turning Shaheen into a productive tight end after a modest-at-best rookie season (12 receptions, 127 yards, three touchdowns), developing Cohen into a more consistent producer, making Howard a better threat in the passing game and continuing the development of Meredith, coming off a season-ending injury last preseason.
“What’s going to be interesting for me and our staff is being able to find the best quality of everybody on the team, whether it’s offense or defense,” Nagy said, “Using the offense — offensive line, tight ends, wide receivers — it’s figuring out what their weaknesses are and how our strengths can help their weaknesses and give them a chance to see if they can improve.”
Getting more from players on the roster will be a big key to Nagy’s success in his first season.
Among Trubisky’s supporting cast, Shaheen might be Exhibit A. Kelce arguably was the most valuable player in the Chiefs’ offense after quarterback Alex Smith. That take was all but proved in the Chiefs’ playoff loss to the Titans after the offense was shut out in the second half without Kelce.
And, again, Kelce is a better model than Gronkowski. Gronk scored 10 touchdowns as a rookie in 2010. But Kelce, a third-round pick in 2013, played only one snap in two games before going on injured reserve with a knee injury in Week 6. He had 67 receptions for 862 yards and five touchdowns under Andy Reid, Doug Pederson and Nagy in 2014.
“[Shaheen’s] work ethic, his approach is all there; we remain very optimistic on him,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “He’s going to fully recover [from the chest injury that forced him to miss the last three games]. I think the chemistry between him and Mitch will be important. We talk about some of that with receivers and quarterbacks, and tight ends and quarterbacks. I think that’s already kind of existing, and that will expand as we go through our entire offseason together.”
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