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Rookie Jesper Horsted eager to fill Bears’ void at tight end

With Trey Burton on IR and Adam Shaheen out, Ben Braunecker’s concussion leaves the Bears thin at a key position in coach Matt Nagy’s offense. Horsted, an undrafted rookie from Princeton, is the next man up.

New York Giants v Chicago Bears
Bear tight end Ben Braunecker is tackled by Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins (20) and linebacker Deone Bucannon (29) in the first quarter last Sunday at Soldier Field. Braunecker suffered a concussion in the game and is unlikely to play Thursday against the Lions at Ford Field.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Bears tight end Jesper Horsted played only four offensive snaps Sunday against the Giants in his first NFL game. But he’s ready for more.

He’d better be.

The rookie from Princeton, who spent the first 10 weeks of the season on the practice squad, suddenly is the Bears’ best pass-catching tight end. Ben Braunecker isn’t expected to play Thursday against the Lions after suffering a concussion against the Giants, Adam Shaheen is still out with a foot injury and Trey Burton is on injured reserve.

‘‘I think I’m ready for it,’’ Horsted said. ‘‘At this level, one thing all of [the others] have passed on to me is that you always prepare like you’re going to be the main guy in that game because injuries happen in this league. So I’m not going to prepare any differently because I think I do that every week already.’’

The Bears once had seven tight ends on their roster, including the practice squad, but they are down to four for the game against the Lions: Horsted, J.P. Holtz and Bradley Sowell on the active roster and Dax Raymond on the practice squad.

The situation typifies the regression on offense that has marked the 2019 season. Horsted is a rookie who played his first game last week. Holtz is a blocker who was signed in Week 2 after being cut by the Redskins. Sowell is a converted offensive lineman who had been inactive for eight games before playing two offensive snaps against the Rams. And Raymond never has been active for a regular-season game.

Combined, the four have played 14 games in the NFL (176 total snaps on offense), with three receptions for 27 yards and no touchdowns.

Coach Matt Nagy knows what he’s dealing with. The Bears have all but ignored the tight end in the passing game since Burton’s injury became problematic. In their last five games, Bears tight ends have six receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown (Braunecker’s 18-yard catch in a 20-13 victory against the Lions on Nov. 10 at Soldier Field). It’s not the game plan the Bears envisioned when they started the season.

‘‘Yeah, it’s different; it’s totally different,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘We all kind of joked about it at the beginning of the season and the middle of the season how many tight ends we’ve had. It’s come to help us here a little bit to at least get through and see where some of these guys are at. It also gives a guy like Horsted a chance to show what he can do.’’

Horsted is eager for the opportunity after getting his feet wet Sunday. He caught a four-yard pass from quarterback Mitch Trubisky among his four offensive snaps, and even that modest debut was a big moment for him.

‘‘It was,’’ Horsted said. ‘‘I definitely took a second to realize what I’d done, and that was definitely a childhood dream and goal. But it wasn’t just to make it into a game. I have a lot more that I hope to accomplish.’’

Horsted’s first game was typical for an undrafted rookie.

‘‘Before the game, I’ve never dealt with nerves like that,’’ he said. ‘‘Once I got out there, everything was going really quickly because I was trying to do everything 100 miles per hour. By the end of it, I realized: ‘It’s still football. Settle down a bit.’ And I was like: ‘OK, I can do this. I can compete at this level.’ I think that’s going to be a lot better going into the second game.’’