Before Mitch Trubisky sparked a short-lived quarterback controversy or running back Tarik Cohen dazzled in Jordan Howard’s absence or Eddie Jackson earned starting snaps at safety, tight end Adam Shaheen was the rookie worth highlighting.
Shaheen was the one who gave veteran linebacker Jerrell Freeman issues over the middle during the offseason program. He was the one who boxed out veteran safety Quintin Demps for a one-handed catch in the end zone in training camp.
So what happened?
Compared to his fellow rookies, Shaheen, the Bears’ second-round pick, has had a quiet preseason. He has three catches for 18 yards. Shaheen even failed to corral a blocked punt in the end zone against the Titans on Sunday.
There just have been no big plays from the Bears’ new 6-6, 270-pound big guy. Undrafted rookie receiver Tanner Gentry has been more impressive on game day.
Still, it’s not time to worry about Shaheen. Not yet, at least. If anything, the other rookies’ success has shrouded the actual progress that Shaheen is making.
In a way, it’s as if the Bears are hiding him — a secret weapon in development without any film for opponents to see what’s coming.
Shaheen’s “slow” preseason is part of that. The Bears already know he’s a skilled pass catcher. The goal for him is to become a capable blocker by Week 1.
“Definitely, a lot to work on,” said Shaheen, who often spends time with his position coach, Frank Smith, after practice on his blocking fundamentals. “But I definitely have the size, and I can do it. It’s just a matter of perfecting it and really being consistent with it, instead of just one play great, one play OK, one play you missed a guy.”
In general, most rookie tight ends face considerable hurdles early on in the NFL, particularly with blocking. It’s similar to the challenges that young offensive tackles face because of the widespread use of no-huddle, up-tempo offenses at the college level.
Shaheen also faces an adjustment coming from Division-II Ashland (Ohio). He rarely blocked, and when he did, his size and athleticism made him naturally imposing.
With the Bears, there is an emphasis on “your footwork, hand placement and then obviously knowing your assignment,” Shaheen said.
At this point, consider the Bears pleasantly surprised by Shaheen’s developemt. The Bears’ win against Titans showed that he already has earned offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ trust.
On tight end Dion Sims’ one-yard touchdown catch, Shaheen kept Titans outside linebacker Brian Orakpo out of the backfield. It was an important assignment on the back side of a play-action play.
Shaheen’s blocking also factored in Trubisky’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Gentry. He successfully warded off outside linebacker Kevin Dodd — a second-round pick last year from Clemson – without any assistance.
Of course, Shaheen’s pass-catching skills are what make him valuable, especially with receiver Cam Meredith lost for the season. But Shaheen insists those can improve, too.
“There’s just so much more that goes into it at this level,” Shaheen said. “It’s using leverage, setting [the defender] up, doubling him up, head fakes.
“[It’s] all kinds of different stuff and techniques that I’m just now getting a hold of so that I don’t have to a box a guy out every single time I catch the ball. It’s not a contested catch every time.”
Shaheen also had a bad habit of fully extending his arms to create separation in college. That can result in offensive pass interference in the NFL.
“It’s just learning how to not fully extend but still get that same separation just with a little flip of the wrist or the elbow,” he said.
Overall, the entire preseason experience has helped Shaheen. It’s been considerably different than Ashland.
“It’s great to get in there and kind of settle in and just get all those nerves out of the way,” Shaheen said. “That’s the best thing for the rookies.”