The Trey Burton situation is both bizarre and complex. It goes all the way back to his untimely injury keeping him on the sidelines for the Bears biggest game of the 2018 season. His own explaination of it back then didn’t do a whole lot to inspire confidence in his availability for the 2019 season opener this Thursday.
Burton said his body locks up on him when it is threatened. A very odd answer to a very mysterious injury. That takes you back to the Giants game when Burton asked out of the razzle dazzle play he was the trigger man for the year prior in the superbowl now infamously known as the “Philly Special” during practices for the Giants game because of anxiety. That forced the Bears to use Cohen in Burton’s place with just one day to practice it. Fortunately, Cohen was up to the task.
Outside of his having a groin injury after having surgery to repair a hernia in the general vicinity of his current groin injury this off season that limited his participation in mini and training camps, now, the concern over his struggles with anxiety has rebubbled to the surface. Anxiety is not something to be looked at lighted nor should it be a sign of weakness like many mouth breathers out there want to make it out to be, but like a physical ailment it can keep him off the field or at his best when he’s on it.
This may be a fiasco all season or it may just be an unrelated groin injury to his previous one requiring surgery to repair as the team is saying, but one thing that changes the narrative from last season’s playoff game is the Bears are equiped with many more options to offset his loss.
Sure, the U Tight End plays a significant role in the offense, but not necessarily as it’s main option in the route progressions. A lot of it is about running interference as a decoy and blocker to free up other options. The Bears are very confident in Ben Braunecker‘s ability to execute those routes and blocks in Burton’s place. He has shown when targeted he’ll catch the ball too.
The other option they have to offset Burton’s loss is using Adam Shaheen as both a blocker and pass catcher. The coaches all appear to like how Shaheen has looked and it is beyond time to implement him into a more significant role with this team. He’s in year three as a pro, year two in this offense and is a year removed from his surgery so he should be both physically and mentally ready to take that leap and realize some of the potential the Bears saw in him when they traded up in round two in 2017 to draft him.
This is a big year for him and if he turns out to be that combo Y who can block in the run game, run routes in the passing game and make catches in the red zone for scores, good damn luck stopping this offense.
Athletically, he’s even better than Burton in many ways so there is no reason why he can’t physically run the exact same routes Burton does. Being in year two of the offense he should be up to the task cerebrally as well. Forget his size and strength. He is more agile and quick if you go by the combine numbers. Burton is significantly faster straightline with a 4.62 40 in comparison to Shaheen’s 4.79. However, in almost every other field drill his times top Burton’s. Shaheen has the edge in 3-cone (7.09 to 7.14), broad jump (121.0″ to 112.0″), vert. (32.5 to 30).
If he continues to struggle with injuries &/or is ineffective as a weapon and blocker this may be his last season with the team.
There is another reason to not freak out over the possible abscence of Burton. It’s got to do with all the many weapons at Matt Nagy’s disposal. Better, more dangerous weapons at that. You start with the Wide receiver unit and that is led by the unquestioned leader of the group Allen Robinson.
When healthy Robinson is uncoverable. Even when he is covered well. As long as the ball placement gives him a chance to get his hands on a ball there is no corner in the league who can consitently wrestle the ball from Robinson’s grips. Aside from the significant catch radius he brings he also has superior ball skills and strong sure hands. His timing on jump balls gives him the ability to high point balls at their apex.
If that isn’t enough Robinson, is highly intelligent and can read coverages and run the correct routes as a top notch option route runner. He gives Trubisky a reliable and trusted target on every single pass play should he choose to use it. Robinson is also a top notch route runner physically. His technique is flawless and his double moves hypnotic to any DB trying to cover him. In year two of the offense and away from knee surgery, as well as an entire offseason of training not rehab, Robinson may very well have his best season as a pro to this point.
The rest of the group has to excite you as a Bears fan. You know Trubisky and the offensive coaching staff sure are. Starting with the new additions free agent signee Cordarrell Patterson and this year’s 4th rd. pick Riley Ridley give the Bears two different types of weapons but two guys that will require extra attention when they’re out there. Particularly concerning to Defensive Coordinators when considering they’re at the bottom of the depth chart and in a way unknown quantities in how Matt Nagy will deploy them in his offense.
Ridley is a little more predictable than Patterson in spite of being a rookie as he figures to be a chain moving Z or a slot Y, but also being smart enough to line up at the X as well and know each position’s responsibility based on how the defense plays them. That type of versatility is becoming a kind of staple and trademark of the team. His route running and sure hands make him a likely core player with this team as one of the offense’s most reliable receivers. As a rookie we’ll have to wait and see how big of a role he does actually play this season.
In the veteran Patterson, who knows what you’ll see from him this year. Sure, there is a very diverse amount of tape on him by now. Performing a very diverse amount of roles too I might add. In New England we saw yet another role he could fill in halfback. With Nagy and his evil genius offensive mind one wonders what new tricks will we see out of Patterson this season? You can bet there will be Defensive Coordinators rolling around in their beds with the Bears on their schedule having many sleepless nights to come trying to prepare for something they may never have seen before.
The remaining 4 who all came in last year in the form of 2018 free agent signings thenpreviously mentioned Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, as well as draft picks Anthony Miller and Javon Wims from last year’s draft class. Robinson looks to have a big year as Trubisky’s favorite target but all four should experience a big jump in production considering they all will be in year two of this offense. More importantly, Mitch Trubisky will be in year two and should be able to take advantage of this group as weapons more than he has to this point in his career.
Gabriel had a career year last year in receptions and total yards but is expected to be even more effective in year two by maybe getting less targets but more production in yards per catch and explosive plays. Again, a more experienced Trubisky should aid Gabriel’s production especially deep downfield as it will all the receivers.
Now entering year two as pro’s both Wims and especially Miller will be trusted targets for Trubisky. Wims is a guy that kind of surprised some with his development as a receiver and gives Trubisky another big target to throw jump balls to and as a red zone target.
Miller, who repaired his shoulder in the off-season will be much better physically which is a huge part of his game out of the slot. The biggest difference with Miller may be his familiarity of the offense. Last year he struggled with his assignments and got less targets because of it. He and Trubisky were never on the same page in perhaps a related situation. Look for a big leap in Miller’s evolution as a go to slot receiver.
If that isn’t enough to calm you about the possible limitations of Burton’s role in the offense just take a gander at the running back squad. The Bears nearly did a complete revamp of the position group molding it to the vision of how Nagy wants to use that group. The only holdover left is Tarik Cohen who will likely be used more as a receiver than a running back. That is the consensus anticipation from anyone covering the team anyway. Cohen also is coming off a pro bowl season as a punt returner giving yet another phase of a team something to worry about on special teams.
Aside from the many things you can do with swiss army knife Cohen, the other vet on the team Mike Davis, is also a versatile back in spite of being considered the between the tackles power back. He can also pass protect, run fluid routes out of the backfield and even split out wide and in the slot. He has a soft pair of hands to corral passes and has the agility to adjust to balls that don’t have the greatest ball placement.
The other two new additions came via the 2019 draft this past spring when the Bears traded up to draft David Montgomery 73rd overall, and took a flier on Kerrith Whyte in the 7th rd. Not sure how often Whyte will be active on game days but when he is expect Nagy to find ways to get the ball in the hands of the speedy running back. Whether it be as a receiver, a running back or as a returner.
Montgomery is already the star of this group without even getting one NFL regular season touch. The one game he got action in the preseason in he looked as advertised. He showed off his most famous trait of contact balance especially on his touchdown run, his receiving ability on a 20 plus catch and run and his power in short yardage. He will be the eventual catalyst of this offense. The only question appears to be not if but when.
You can add Trubisky to that mix as well. I’ve already dove into how the evolution of his mastery of the offense will help the receiving group but there is also the X-factor of his ability to tuck it and run. If defenses don’t have enough to worry about with the diverse array of weapons the Bears have on their roster, now, they have to worry about defending him as a runner.
Teams won’t be able to play man coverage without deploying a spy which takes an extra defender out of possible blitzes and coverage. If they choose not to employ a spy good luck stopping Trubisky from moving the sticks with runs when your defenders have their backs turned covering the Bears receivers.
If the Bears do struggle offensively as they did versus the Eagles in the playoff game because of the abscence of Burton shame on them and especially shame on Nagy. However, after watching Nagy for a full season last year is there anyone out there willing to put their money down on Nagy not being able to use the personnel I just mentioned? Yeah, me either.