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TE Burton’s career year left Chicago Bears wanting more

January 25, 2019

Despite the mysterious groin injury that kept him out of the playoff loss to the Eagles, Trey Burton enjoyed a career year in his first year with the Bears after departing Philadelphia via free agency.

Burton is an ideal fit in head coach Matt Nagy’s offense, a versatile, undersized athlete who’s dangerous in the red zone. He scored six times on 54 receptions for 569 yards (10.5-yard average). But Burton’s late-season performance plummeted, and there was the feeling that he could have produced much more than he did.

In the Bears’ first six games, Burton caught 24 passes for 325 yards and four touchdowns, including a score in three straight games. In the 11 games after that, counting the no-show in the postseason, the five-year veteran caught 30 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns and never had a game with more than 40 receiving yards.

The events leading up to Burton’s inactivity were unusual. He practiced Friday without limitation, although he had what he considered normal soreness. But he awoke Saturday with discomfort, and a subsequent MRI revealed some inflammation, according to the Bears.

“Our doctors and what the test revealed (was) that was a real injury that he had to deal with,” G.M. Ryan Pace said. “We were hopeful it would calm down by kickoff. Unfortunately it didn’t. … he wasn’t ready for that game.”

“I let my team down,” Burton said. “I hate it. Especially going against my former team, playoff game, all the implications. It was tough.”

But Burton’s explanation of the events leading up to his sitting out left many somewhat skeptical, especially given his earlier admission that he has battled anxiety issues in the past.

“My history of my body, that’s what it does,” he said. “It locks up when it feels any threat. That’s kind of what happened to me.”

Bottom line, Burton has only missed three regular-season games in five years, and his latest injury is not cause for future concern. The Bears felt there was a good chance he’d be available the following week had they defeated the Eagles.

While he’s not going to knock anyone off the line of scrimmage as a blocker, the 27-year-old, 6-foot-3, 235-pound Burton figures to be a mainstay in the passing game going forward.

There were high hopes for Adam Shaheen in 2018 after the 2017 second-round pick barely flashed as a rookie out of Ashland. But those hopes were dashed when the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Shaheen suffered a preseason foot/ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve and limited him to six games. Though he’s caught just 17 passes in two seasons, four have been for touchdowns, and the Bears love his red-zone presence that he provides with his combination of size and athleticism. He also has the frame to be an effective in-line blocker, and the arrow is still very much pointing up for the 25-year-old.

Not so for six-year veteran Dion Sims, who missed the final eight games with a concussion and is a likely cap casualty. The Bears cannot justify his $6-miliion base for 2019 after he caught just two passes for nine yards in a washout 2018 season. His first season with the Bears wasn’t all that impressive either – 15 receptions for 180 yards and one touchdown. He has Shaheen’s size and strength but not the athleticism and pass-catching ability.

Career backup Daniel Brown is an unrestricted free agent and Ben Braunecker, who contributes on special teams, is restricted.

MVP: Burton.

Most improved: Burton.

Best play: It wasn’t the most spectacular play of the season, but the significance of Burton’s 11-yard TD catch against the Patriots in Week Seven was how easy he made it look. Burton easily dispatched CB Jonathan Jones to create the separation needed to make Mitch Trubisky’s throw easy. That play capped a nine-catch, 126-yard day for Burton and brought the Bears to within 38-31 with 4:13 left in the game.

Key stat: More consistency from Burton would make the offense and Trubisky much more effective. After an impressive start, though, Burton went through a four-game stretch early in the second half, where he practically disappeared, catching just seven passes for 59 yards, no touchdowns and an 8.4-yard average.

Room for improvement: It’s time for Shaheen to start living up to his second-round draft status. He has the tools to be an effective two-way player, a rarity in today’s NFL. He’s big and strong enough to block effectively and has the athleticism and size to create mismatches as a receiver.

2018 Bears position-by-position superlatives:

QBs: Trubisky’s developent answered Bears’ biggest question

RBs: Chicago Bears ran often, just not very well

WRs: Robinson looks like go-to guy; Gabriel, Miller also emerge as key contributors

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