BEARS: Big things in store for Burton
BOURBONNAIS — All the leading indicators point toward TE Trey Burton having a career year in his first season as a Bear.
During his first four seasons as an Eagle, Burton mostly flew under the radar, playing behind Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. But the Bears didn’t give the 27-year-old Burton a four-year, $32-million deal in free agency so he could play second fiddle, even at a TE position that already had veteran Dion Sims and 2017 second-round draft pick Adam Shaheen.
Undrafted out of Florida in 2014, Burton had just three receptions in his first two seasons but caught 37 passes in 2016 for 327 yards. Last year, he had just 23 catches and averaged 10.8 yards per grab and scored five touchdowns.
In his final two years in Philadelphia under head coach Doug Pederson, Burton played in a scheme very similar to what the Bears will be running under Matt Nagy, which gives the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder a leg up in adapting to the new offense. It also makes him a valuable resource for teammates and even coaches.
“It’s been a big advantage,” Burton said after Thursday’s practice, in which he was frequently the target for QB Mitch Trubisky’s tosses. “I’m not having to study as much, so I’m able to help other people when it comes to afternoon meetings, and at night I can spend more time helping other people.
“I bring a different way of thinking (because of past experience). Coaches will install (the offense) one way, and everybody thinks differently to help memorize the play. But I bring a different way. I think differently, so I’m able to help them with the way I think of it, and sometimes they can pick that up a little better.”
On the field, Burton isn’t a rah-rah guy, but he’s stepped up his role, according to Nagy.
“He’s not a very vocal guy,” the coach said. “But I have seen him when there’s a little lull on offense, he’s the guy that steps up, and he starts getting the guys going. A Let’s go, pick-it-up-type deal, so that’ll naturally happen. He’s not going to force it. He knows the right time to do it.”
Even Nagy has sought input from Burton.
“When we’re in installs, I may ask him a question,” Nagy said. “I may say ‘Hey Trey, is this how you all have done it in Philadelphia with Doug?’ Trey knows this offense inside out. He understands leverage, he understands how to get open, so eventually we’ll start scheming for him.”
That’s why the Bears brought Burton in, to be the pass-catching tight end in their offense. He’s been working overtime to improve his blocking, but at his size, there’s a limit to how much of a factor he’ll be in that phase of the game. The 6-foot-4, 271-pound Sims and the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Shaheen are built more for that chore.
“I was never a guy that got that many reps coming from Philly, being the third (tight end),” Burton said. “So I’m definitely (working on) conditioning, and I’m trying to put a lot of emphasis on run blocking because that’s not my strength. I’m trying to work on technique. I’m a smaller guy, so I know my technique has to be on point in order to win against bigger, stronger dudes.”
Burton was attracted to the Bears by what he knew of the role he could play as a pass catcher. In the Kansas City scheme, where Nagy was the offensive coordinator the past two years, the Chiefs’ 6-foot-5, 260-pound TE Travis Kelce caught 168 passes for 2,163 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“I know he looks for the athletic tight ends, guys who can stretch the field and win the one-on-one matchups,” Burton said of Nagy’s philosophy. “It’ll be really interesting to see. Obviously I’ve never played a game with him before. But I’ll be interested and ready for whatever he wants me to do.”
OK, let’s cut to the chase, Trey: Are you going to get the ball enough in this offense, or what?
“We’ll find out,” Burton said, laughing. “That’s really not my job.”