Forgive Bears fans if they’re suddenly feeling a bit of deja vu.
Trey Burton, the starting “U” tight end and one of two vital “adjusters” in coach Matt Nagy’s offense, is in jeopardy of missing the Bears’ opener Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers with what general manager Ryan Pace called a “minor groin strain,” the origin of which seemingly is shrouded in at least some mystery.
Remember, Burton was scratched on the eve of January’s wild-card defeat against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, despite not appearing during the week on the injury report with a groin problem that ultimately required sports hernia surgery in March.
“So, to go back on Trey Burton, the offseason was a sports hernia surgery that he recovered from,” Pace said Monday in what’s likely to be his final visit with the media this year. “And we were smart with how we ramped him up through training camp just with him not doing a lot of football activities over the summer. This was an unrelated mild groin strain that we’re dealing with right now. So we’re hopeful, but it’s going to be a day-by-day thing.”
Burton wasn’t spotted during the open portion of Sunday’s practice, the Bears’ first of three this week leading up to Thursday night. That after he was brought along slowly early in camp, not playing at all in the preseason but appearing to be moving well in the team’s mock scrimmage Aug. 14. Burton also was spotted at practice during the third week of the preseason, and Pace said he “was in a good place” as recently as last week.
“So the mild groin strain was last week,” Nagy said. “It’s just one of those things that it could have happened to anybody. It is what it is. It happened to him. Now we’re just trying to figure out the best way to deal with it, and that’s just to make sure that we listen to what he has, what our trainer Andre [Tucker] says. It’s unfortunate, but at the same time, we’re going to attack it head-on, and he’s doing the same thing, and we’ll just see what happens for his status.”
Both Pace and Nagy called Burton day to day before a potentially encouraging sign came later Monday with Burton getting in a limited practice. Team brass also expressed confidence in the offense’s ability to weather Burton’s potential absence, with Nagy saying the Bears are “different personnel-wise,” almost certainly referring to the offseason additions of Cordarrelle Patterson and top pick running back David Montgomery – two players whose versatility, like Burton’s, are considered strengths.
But it should be mentioned that after Burton started all 16 regular-season games last season and had a career year in the first of his four-year, $32 million contract, Nagy struggled without him to find a counterpunch in the postseason, when the offense produced only six points in the first three-plus quarters and his other “adjuster,” Tarik Cohen, became the focal point of the Eagles’ defense, commanding a season-low four touches.
And although the Bears are better at running back and wide receiver, they’re arguably even thinner entering this season at tight end, with mostly unknown quantities in former second-rounder Adam Shaheen, former undrafted Ben Braunecker and converted swing offensive tackle Bradley Sowell.
Obviously none of them bring what Burton can to the offense, but much like in January, the Bears are facing the possibility of entering a massive game without that added dimension.