Combine Mismatch Makers Intrigue Bears at Tight End

Gene Chamberlain

The Bears try to avoid tipping their hand in the draft or free agency.

At some point the need becomes so obvious all subterfuge fails.

Last year it was at running back where they had to answer a slew of questions at the combine and the NFL owner meetings, then they drafted David Montgomery with their first pick.

This time they could be going in several directions, but one obvious route is tight end.

"We're looking at it in free agency and the draft," Bears general manager Ryan Pace said at the combine.

No sense disguising what is apparent.

It might not seem like a pressing need with Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen returning from injuries and nine or 10 players at this position on their roster on a given offseason day.

They don't need numbers. They need dependability. As coach Matt Nagy said, "availability," was the problem with starters last year.

The talent in the draft is there at tight end, and it's a position where teams with second-round picks like the Bears can usually find top talent because teams tend to look at many other positions in Round 1.

With the Bears, the U-tight end spot is particularly important enough to address high in the draft. It probably explains their early interest in the form of interviews with Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, Dayton's Adam Trautman and Vanderbilt's Jared Pinkney.

The position is said to be the second most important in their offense and they can't count on Burton's return to health, although they are definitely hoping and even expecting he'll recover from hip surgery.

"Our hope is that we finally kinda solved the issue and that there's an upward trajectory now with him," Pace said. "That's our hope. We'll see when the players get back in April."

Hope isn't something to base a season on, so they'll be looking at a U-tight end replacement for Burton. If Burton doesn't make it all the way back, his contract is such that they could cut him at a reasonably small cap hit next year.

For that reason, Thursday's tight end workouts at the combine will be extremely interesting from a Bears perspective. Speed in the 40, the shuttle and three-cone drill will be closely examined along with the way players handle the receiving drills.

"We like looking for a guy with mismatches," coach Matt Nagy said. "That's the word that everybody uses with that U-tight end. But having the ability to do some blocking as well.

"So that’s a point of emphasis for us."

They're looking for a U-tight end because they've basically found at Y-tight end challenger for Adam Shaheen in free agent acquisition Demetrius Harris. This is the position which always lines up on the line of scrimmage. Harris wasn't just an afterthought or waiver wire-style pickup at the position.

"He's well-rounded, can do a lot of different things at the same time," Nagy said. "He knows this offense, the terminology, the verbiage. So he's excited, we're excited. But that's certainly an area that we want to get better statistically, for sure. It's big for us."

Pace admitted Harris is a player the Bears have thought about obtaining while he was with Kansas City before going to Cleveland last year.

"I feel like we've, yeah, I feel like we've talked about him a lot since Nagy got here," Pace said, chuckling a bit.

The mismatch situation fits with Harris because he's 6-foot-7. He is a former college basketball player, not football player, and there have been many athletes like this who came into the league at tight end. But they usually played a U-tight end spot because of how important blocking is for the Y-tight end.

"Demetrius has strengths in the blocking aspect so we think he's still getting better, we think he can kind of flourish in the scheme that we have, but I think the background of the player and the person helped us a lot with that acquisition," Pace said.

The talent is there especially at U-tight end and the Bears will continue watching closely. No sense hiding it now.

"And so, yeah, that's an area of focus for us," Pace said. "I don't think that's a secret. This offense, a lot of it goes through the tight end.

"We're exploring every avenue."

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven