The plan has gone awry for Trey Burton, and now the Bears don’t know whether they’ll have him for their season opener.
Burton hasn’t been right since missing the playoff game against the Eagles with what was eventually diagnosed as a sports hernia. It derailed his offseason, preventing him from football activity for months, and he has hit speed bumps since returning.
The new injury is a “mild groin strain” that occurred last week, general manager Ryan Pace said, and Burton might be a game-time decision Thursday against the Packers. He didn’t practice Sunday but was active in the period open to the media Monday.
“It’s just one of those things that could have happened to anybody,” coach Matt Nagy said. “It’s unfortunate, but we’re going to attack it head-on, and he’s doing the same thing, and we’ll just see what happens.
“We’re doing everything we can to get him ready, but I can’t say a definite yes or no. We’re literally working day to day with him right now.”
Going without Burton would be a headache. He’s the Bears’ most productive tight end, and the choices to replace him — Adam Shaheen and Ben Braunecker — have a combined 24 career catches.
Burton put up career highs of 54 catches, 569 yards and six touchdowns last season. He was fourth on the team in receiving yards and total touchdowns.
After missing the playoff game, Burton didn’t have surgery until May. He targeted the start of training camp for his return and practiced five consecutive days but looked diminished. The Bears put him in an isolated training program, but Nagy said all along he expected him to be fine for the opener.
Nagy and Pace maintained that Burton fully healed from the original injury and that this strain is unrelated. It was clear a month ago, however, that Burton’s recovery from the sports hernia didn’t go as planned.
“With training camp, it was more just being mindful, just being smart,” Pace said. “So to rush him out there in training camp and say, ‘Hey, go full speed in practice,’ that’s just not the smart thing to do.”
Burton was not 100 percent last week, but Pace said he was “in a good place” as far as being ready for the Packers game before getting hurt.
When Burton was a late scratch against the Eagles, the offense sputtered. Nagy believes he’s more prepared to overcome his potential absence this week than eight months ago.
“We have different things that we can do,” he said. “So when things like this come up . . . we’re prepared. But I’m not just talking about that one position — overall personnel.”
The Bears use Burton as their “U” tight end, essentially a hybrid of tight end and slot receiver, and most teams struggle to find one player like that, let alone build meaningful depth. Burton was one of 12 tight ends to have 50-plus receptions last season.
Nonetheless, Braunecker and Shaheen will give it a shot.
Shaheen has been No. 2 at the position but has battled injuries throughout his time with the Bears and missed time with back trouble in training camp.
“Trey is a big part of the offense,” Shaheen said. “Losing a guy like that is never easy. . . . Our job is just to pick up where he left off and try to make it so there’s no step-down.”
Burton, who has rarely missed a game in his six-year career, played 80 percent of the offensive snaps last season. Shaheen played 160 snaps in six games and had five catches for 48 yards and a touchdown.
With Burton and Shaheen missing time in the preseason, Braunecker made his push for a significant role. He had three catches for 42 yards last season and played mainly on special teams.