Feeling ‘not anywhere close to great,’ Bears tight end Trey Burton fights frustration after slow start
The groin injury that required offseason surgery — and, after a setback, kept him from making his season debut until Week 2 — still bothers him. He has never been through anything like it.
Ask Trey Burton how he feels, and you get a complicated answer.
“OK,” the Bears tight end said Wednesday.
Not great? Not bad?
“Not anywhere close to great,” he said. “But OK.”
The groin injury that required offseason surgery — and, after a setback, kept him from making his season debut until Week 2 — still bothers him. Burton has never been through anything like it.
“That’s what’s so frustrating about it,” he said. “Mentally, you’re good. Mentally, I’m refreshed. I’m ready to rock and roll. But physically, I’m just being held back.”
The stats show it. Burton has played 45.9 percent of the Bears’ snaps this season, one year after playing 80 percent of them.
In 16 games last season, he had 54 catches for 569 yards and six touchdowns. In four games this season, he has 11 for 57 yards and no scores.
“It’s weird,” Burton said. “Because you’re in a position where you want to play as hard as you can but you don’t want to get hurt. You gotta figure out a fine line.”
Burton woke up the day before the Bears’ wild-card game last season against the Eagles with a groin that felt “locked up.” He wondered whether it could be anxiety-related but said it wasn’t, and a team MRI confirmed the injury, which later required surgery.
After surgery, he was given forecasts of when he would be back to normal. He’s still not fully healthy and might not be until next season.
“It’s gone a little longer than that,” he said. “It’s not just one thing. It’s been a cumulative group of things that have hurt it and kind of prolonged it.”
Burton missed the season opener. The next couple weeks after he returned in Week 2, he said, “was just really trying to survive,” physically. He’s felt better lately. He wasn’t on the injury report leading into the Raiders’ game, and the bye week helped.
“The last couple games I’ve been able to go all week and practice fully, which is big,” Burton said. “When you’re not practicing, it’s tough to really be involved.”
Burton’s participation is crucial for coach Matt Nagy’s scuffling offense. He plays the Travis Kelce role. As an “adjustor,” he needs to be flexible and smart. Burton plays well against man and zone defense, Nagy said. Against base defenses, the Bears can split him wide as a receiver. Against nickel and dime packages, he can block or box out smaller opponents.
Nagy anticipates Burton will be more involved.
“I could see it jumping up a little bit more here,” Nagy said. “Just because we, that was the plan — the healthier you get, ‘Let’s ease into it,’ rather than just throw you in and not be ready.”
Tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride said Burton should get more work.
“Ebbs and flows happen when a guy’s 100 percent healthy, as far as his productivity . . .” he said. “It hasn’t necessarily shown up yet. I think it will. I’m not too worried about that happening.”
In the meantime, Burton appreciates the Bears’ trainers, coaches and front office for their patience. He has played on teams before where “you pull a hamstring in the game and you’re expected to play the following week.”
That pressure isn’t put on him here. He listens to his body, and the Bears listen to him.
“I’m excited for the offense to kind of kick into the next gear and be a little more productive from my standpoint,” Burton said. “And try to help a little bit more and do a little bit more.”
A lot more.
“I hate the pitch count thing,” he said. “I’d rather be in the flow of the game than pick and choose where.
“At the end of the day, it’s just going to be about me getting healthy and my body getting right. I want to be able to help produce.”