In Week 9 of last season, tight end Trey Burton left Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall spinning, then he scored for the Eagles.
The play — a 27-yard touchdown from quarterback Carson Wentz — is an example of what Burton can provide coach Matt Nagy, who shares the same offensive philosophy as Eagles coach Doug Pederson, another disciple of Andy Reid.
The Eagles’ formation forced Marshall to cover Burton, who was essentially a wide receiver on the play, out wide and in space. Burton faked a quick slant before breaking toward the sideline on a fade.
Burton’s entire route spun Marshall, and a back-shoulder throw from Wentz resulted in a touchdown.
“I would say tight end, in general, in this offense is fun because you get to do a little bit of everything,” Burton said. “They move you around. You can line up outside. You can line up tight, a bunch of different things.”
The Bears signed Burton to be exactly that – “a bunch of different things.” He was targeted in free agency not only because of his experience in the Eagles’ offense, but because he’s a young, emerging player who fills the important “U” tight-end position.
But regardless of how similar the Bears’ offense feels for Burton, his personal situation is considerably different. With the Eagles, he didn’t have a four-year, $32 million contract – including $22 million guaranteed – to live up to on the field. In Philadelphia, he wasn’t asked to be a team leader, a mentor for younger tight ends or a quasi-coach for teammates who are learning a new offense.
Burton played behind Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz with the Eagles, but he’s expected to be Ertz-like for the Bears. He will be compared to Travis Kelce, the Pro Bowl “U” tight end in Nagy’s Chiefs offense.
Because of all of the above, no player on offense is burdened by expectations more than Burton. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky will get time to adjust in a new offense; Burton will not. He’s here to ease Trubisky’s transition. He must step in and be Ertz and/or Kelce.
“I’m really, really happy I walked into this situation with a really good group of guys not just on the field but off the field,” Burton said. “We’re going to do the best we can every single week, just like you guys expect us to.”
Burton said so with a smile. He prefers to view his situation as full of opportunities — “A ton more,” he said — than one packed with pressure. He won’t compare his production to what Ertz or Kelce do this season, though outsiders will do so.
“No, I want to win,” Burton said. “I don’t really care about all those numbers.”
But Burton’s numbers do matter to the Bears’ success. The organization expects him to surpass his career highs of 37 receptions and 327 yards – which he set two years ago in his first year with Pederson – and then some.
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Bears tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride raved about Burton’s skill set, mentioning his route-running, hands, body control, intelligence and willingness to block. He’s everything you want in the hybrid “U” position.
“He knows how to manipulate a defender,” Gilbride said.
Burton’s touchdown against Marshall is an example of that. But again, the Bears expect more.
With Nagy’s first offseason program ending soon, the Bears are encouraged by what they’ve seen and heard from Burton.
“It’s so easy to feel his leadership,” Nagy said. “The guys see that and feel that because of the team he just came from. How he handled himself in Philadelphia, he brought that here.
“He’s really smart. He understands this offense and what to do, so there’s not a lot of mistakes. When guys see that — you’re a player that has experience in this offense and does things the right way — they really gravitate toward that style of leadership. It’s been everything and more with what we thought with Trey.”