Why Bears TE Adam Shaheen is growing in Matt Nagy’s offense

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Bears tight end Adam Shaheen is tackled by Bengals linebacker Hardy Nickerson in the first half Thursday | Frank Victores, AP photo

BOURBONNAIS — Tight end Adam Shaheen lined up a step behind the line of scrimmage Thursday, the outside man in a bunch formation that saw three pass catchers grouped just beyond the Bears’ right tackle.

When the ball was snapped, he emerged from the trio to run a short crossing route. The Bengals’ Hardy Nickerson, a second-generation linebacker, was waiting for him exactly at the spot Shaheen was headed, two yards from the line of scrimmage.

“I just saw he was walling me,” Shaheen said before the Bears’ practice Saturday night at Ward Field, Olivet Nazarene University’s on-campus stadium. “It looked like if I was going to go under him, I’d only be, like, maybe two yards, and he’d probably get his hands on me.

“So I went over the top and just beat him, and Chase threw it my way.”

Chase Daniel, the backup quarterback, waited for Shaheen to make the stutter-step and take his route behind the linebacker. He threw to Shaheen, who caught the ball, turned up the left sideline and gained 29 yards before Nickerson finally caught up with him.

That’s the beauty of coach Matt Nagy’s offense — and that Shaheen isn’t a rookie anymore. As opposed to this time a year ago, the Bears can trust the former Division II star to make the right snap decision. Nagy’s offense gives him the freedom to do so.

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“There’s a little more not-so-much focus on, like, a perfect square cut,” said Shaheen, who caught three passes for 53 yards. “It’s more … against this coverage, you need to be in that hole at the right time.”

Asked for his specific key on the play, Shaheen smiled.

“For that play in particular,” he said, “I’m trying to get open.”

The Bears will take that little bit of niftiness from a player more known for his jump-ball skills, and whose body has been compared to perhaps the greatest tight end of all time, Rob Gronkowski.

“Well, I don’t like making comparisons, but when you look at him, you get a guy like Gronk,” Nagy said earlier in camp.

“I know that comparison’s been made, but he is, he’s not a wiggle guy. He’s not going to make stick moves and run, take it high. But what he can do is he has really good ball skills. He wins the 50-50 balls most of the time. So now he’s just trying to figure out the leverage, how do you work leverage as a big body like that. So he’s a red-zone threat.”

He can’t be a mere pass catcher. When Dion Sims suffered a concussion, Shaheen spent most of last week as the team’s “Y” tight end, which is primarily an in-line blocker. Trey Burton signed a four-year, $32 million deal to play the “U” tight end — a split-out, pass-catching role — but the Bears are looking for ways to create mismatches for Shaheen there, too.

“I want to be able to add value at both,” Shaheen said.

Keep making the right decisions, as he did Thursday, and he will.

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