Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season. 

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Adam Engel stepped into the batter’s box for his first major league at-bat in May armed with a batting stance that, to say the least, wasn’t conventional. 

Engel’s hands were pushed far away from his body and were level with his head. His bat pointed straight up in the air, and his right (back) arm was raised above his left (front) one. On first glance, you had to wonder — how can that be comfortable? 

“That’s something that I probably wouldn’t coach a little kid to do,” Engel said. 

But there was a well-thought-out method to Engel’s stance. He used the word “tension” in describing what he was trying to avoid by thrusting his hands high and away from his body. And as White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson noted, nobody does anything well when they’re tight. 

“The closer I get my hands to my body, I tend to grab the bat a little harder, which causes a chain reaction I don’t want,” Engel said. “As long as my hands get to where I want them before I start swinging, that’s the goal.”

Since arriving in the majors two months ago, though, Engel has lowered his hands and dropped his back elbow. Here’s the difference in his stances between his first career hit (May 27) and his first career home run (June 25)

And almost a month later, Engel's gradually brought his hands lower:

For a rookie, tinkering with hand placement can be hazardous. But Engel’s batting stance has been a work in progress for a while now, as evidenced by what it was back in spring training of 2016:

Even during spring training in 2017, Engel’s stance was closer to what it was in 2016 than what it was when he made his major league debut:

But here’s the point Steverson made about all those tweaks and changes: As long as it helps Engel get the barrel of his bat to the point of contact, who cares how it looks before the swing?

“At the point of contact, 99.9 percent of every hitter looks the same,” Steverson said. “… How you get it done is based upon timing and your inner functions. But can I get it to here on time is what it’s all about. There’s many myriad ways of doing that. You’re not going to teach somebody to do that because there’s not their functions. 

“… You got guys (in basketball) taking free throws different — did it go in the bucket or did it not go in the bucket? It’s kind of the same way with hitting. Can I get the barrel to the point of contact or can I not get the barrel to the point. And that’s the end of the story.”

The 25-year-old Engel is still trying to find his way through his first major league season, hitting .233 with a .317 on-base percentage and a below-average .650 OPS.  But he’s had some sporadic positive results, like his four-hit game against the Minnesota Twins June 22. 

There’s a fine line between finding a batting stance and hand placement that you’re comfortable with and tinkering too much, especially for a player as green as Engel. But he’ll continue to put in the work trying to find something that will yield consistent success — and that may mean another batting stance that sticks out. 

“it’s just pregame work, watch a lot of video on the starter before the games and then try to work all my work pregame, batting practice, swings in the cage, try to have a mindset that I’m going to have in the game,” Engel said. “Work on the mindset, and then when I step in the box, it’s as close to practice as it can be.” 

The wait is over: Bears sign Mitch Trubisky

The wait is over: Bears sign Mitch Trubisky

Mitch Trubisky said all along he wasn't worried about signing a contract and that he would have something completed before training camp. On Wednesday, the No. 2 overall pick officially stuck to his word. 

The Bears announced Wednesday -- the day Bears rookies report to Halas Hall -- that Trubisky signed a contract. Trubisky had to be signed to a contract to participate in training camp, which begins next week in Bourbonnais. 

"That's not really for me to worry about," Trubisky said in early June. "I'm going to be out here at practice everyday. My agent and the Bears organization is going to handle that. But I'm not really sure how that stuff works. I'm here to play football, I'm not worried about contracts."

A Trubisky holdout was always unlikely given both sides' desire to get the North Carolina alum into training camp from Day 1. With his contract signed, Trubisky will have an opportunity to develop in the month and a half separating the start of training camp from the Bears' season opener Sept. 10 against the Atlanta Falcons. 

Trubisky wasn't the last first-round quarterback to sign, too. Patrick Mahomes, the 10th overall pick, has yet to sign with Kansas City. And Mahomes is one of six first-round picks who have yet to sign along with Solomon Thomas (No. 3, San Francisco), Corey Davis (No. 5, Tennessee), Jamal Adams (No. 6, New York Jets), Gareon Conley (No. 24, Oakland) and Jabril Peppers (No. 25, Cleveland).