Jesper Horsted, not a ‘full-on tight end yet,’ ready for his chance with Bears
Despite playing only three offensive snaps in the first two exhibition games combined, he finished with eight catches for 121 yards in the preseason.
Desperate to get some receiving production from their tight ends, the Bears on Wednesday promoted their most intriguing option, rookie Jesper Horsted — who has been playing the position for only six months and one week — to their active roster.
Horsted was Princeton’s career leader in receptions and touchdown receptions when the Bears signed him and began his conversion from receiver to tight end in May.
He has spent the season on the Bears’ practice squad after being their most pleasant surprise in the preseason. He caught eight passes for 121 yards despite playing only two full exhibition games, plus three offensive snaps in a third.
The 6-3 Horsted showed an outstanding catch radius and a knack for separating at the top of routes — skills befitting a receiver. He said he has improved since by practicing against the Bears’ first-team defense and has bulked up from 225 to 240 pounds.
It won’t take much for Horsted to make an impact. His 121 preseason yards are more than any Bears tight end has totaled this season.
‘‘Even though I’m a fast study, it’s going to take time — more than a few months,’’ Horsted said Wednesday. ‘‘I’m going in the right direction, but by no means am I a full-on tight end yet.’’
The Bears need him to be. Ben Braunecker, started Sunday against the Rams and played 50 offensive snaps — 10 more than he had totaled in the first nine games combined.
‘‘It was a challenge physically,’’ Braunecker said.
Horsted represents the only healthy ‘‘U’’ tight end — the pass-catching position — behind Braunecker. At the ‘‘Y’’ spot, which features more in-line blocking, the Bears have a fullback/tight end (J.P. Holtz) and a converted tackle (Bradley Sowell), plus a rookie on the practice squad (Dax Raymond). Adam Shaheen, a former second-round pick who is nearing bust territory, sat out Sunday — and practice Wednesday — with a foot injury.
The Bears had an opening on their active roster after putting starting ‘‘U’’ tight end Trey Burton on injured reserve Saturday. Burton, who is in the second year of a four-year, $32 million deal, never recovered from offseason groin surgery and hurt his calf against the Lions.
Burton, Braunecker and others helped Horsted learn the position along the way.
‘‘They’re extremely good at it — like, so much better than I expected coming into the NFL,’’ Horsted said. ‘‘They’ve been so helpful. Not only when I go to them to ask them a question, but they will be on my case on the sideline: ‘So what do you have on this play? When are we killing this play?’ Maybe to a point where I’m like: ‘All right, leave me alone. I’m trying to watch.’ ’’
Horsted and Raymond held meetings Saturday with position coach Kevin Gilbride.
‘‘To be able to go in and select plays from the week . . . that I had questions on or the technique didn’t feel right on, it’s been really nice to be able to go and get some answers,’’ Horsted said. ‘‘Rather than just put stuff on film and kind of wonder, maybe talk to a vet about it. That’s been huge for my development.”
A fellow Ivy Leaguer, the Harvard-educated Braunecker said he and Horsted have so much in common that, ‘‘I kind of feel like he’s related to me, in some sense.’’
Braunecker knows Horsted will be nervous in his debut Sunday, just like he was.
‘‘To be honest, nothing really helps,’’ Braunecker said. ‘‘You’ve just got to go out there and do it. It gets better after the first play.’’
At a new position, Horsted’s nerves will be even further fried.
‘‘I would be nervous if I were to go out and be the ballboy for this game right now,’’ Horsted said with a smile. ‘‘But it’s a good thing.’’