After seven seasons in the NFL, Bradley Sowell had a relatively secure role as a dependable backup offensive tackle. But when coach Matt Nagy hatched the idea of converting Sowell to tight end, Sowell was all-in.
‘‘I think it’s risky for people that don’t believe, but I knew,’’ Sowell said. ‘‘I wouldn’t do this unless I knew that I could do it. I was pretty confident either way — whether I stayed at tackle or [tight end] — that I’d have a shot to make the team and be successful at it. I did this a lot last year, too. So I feel I wouldn’t have done it if I felt I was putting myself at a high risk.’’
The Bears’ lack of depth at in-line tight end (the ‘‘Y’’ position) behind Adam Shaheen, their impending salary-cap crunch, Sowell’s two-yard touchdown catch against the Rams last season and Nagy’s love of thinking outside the box all played a role in the decision to move Sowell.
‘‘This was something we talked about last year during the season at times,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘He might have gotten a little bit of a confidence boost when he caught the ball in the end zone [against the Rams].
‘‘It speaks to who he is and trying to sacrifice, knowing our role at the ‘Y’ position, that we could use some depth there. He’s being about the ‘we’ part.’’
Sowell (pronounced SAH-wel) has cleared the early hurdles in the transition. He dropped his weight from 312 pounds to 277 and has learned the intricacies of Nagy’s offense.
‘‘When you play O-line, you’re in the same spot every time,’’ said Sowell, who has started 24 games in his NFL career. ‘‘But [at tight end], you have to hear a lot more of the play when you’re in the huddle. Now it’s become second nature. As soon as I hear it, I know where to go. Just getting into the playbook as quickly as I did was something I was pretty proud of.’’
All he has to do now is play the position. Sowell still is in the learning phase there. He missed a block that led to a sack against the Giants, but he had a key block that helped spring running back Ryan Nall for a 69-yard run against the Colts.
‘‘It’s gone really well,’’ Sowell said. ‘‘I’ve learned a lot. Obviously, it’s a new position. But in the run game, I was pretty sharp. I’m just trying to sharpen up all my pass-game stuff. I’ve kind of surprised myself a little bit.’’
It remains to be seen whether Sowell is NFL-ready at tight end, a particularly critical question because of Shaheen’s health issues. But it sounds as though Nagy will give him time to figure it out.
‘‘He’s a developmental guy that’s worked really hard to get where he’s at, so we need to have some patience,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘And we’ll see how he fits with this team at certain positions. You [work] with guys like him that sacrifice themselves to make the team better. He did that.
‘‘So I don’t think it would be fair for us to criticize him too hard right now, just because he’s learning. But I like where he’s at, and I have a lot of confidence in him.’’