Bears need TE Adam Shaheen to step up in Zach Miller's absence

NEW ORLEANS -- Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller’s knee injury Sunday opens the door for rookie Adam Shaheen to become a factor in the passing game.

Shaheen is making the tricky transition from Division II college football to the NFL, but he’s a second-round pick. And high picks are expected to contribute immediately.

For example, former Bears second-round choices center Cody Whitehair and nose tackle Eddie Goldman have started virtually since day one. That’s the way it’s supposed to go.

Shaheen has only one reception, a 2-yard touchdown catch, in eight games.

That needs to change in a hurry.

All the physical traits are there. Shaheen is 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, and perfectly built to catch passes inside the red zone. Granted, the Bears' offense doesn’t reach the red zone all that often, but they should use Shaheen more when they do.

The rookie could post up smaller defenders on shorter routes because of that size. And quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, a fellow rookie, could use a big target like Shaheen, particularly over the middle on checkdown throws.

The latest injury to Miller is particularly cruel. He was tied with Kendall Wright for the most receiving yards (236) and second-most receptions (20) on the team, and was the only Bears player with multiple touchdown catches.

A popular figure inside the locker room, Miller fought back from almost every football injury known to man. Even with durability issues, the 33-year-old was a good candidate for an extension after the season -- Miller will be a free agent -- because of his productivity and leadership.

That’s all up in the air now.

“It’s a tremendous loss with Z-man going down,” Bears running back Tarik Cohen said. “He is big in [building] momentum [for us]. He always gets us fired up. He knows exactly what to say and do [to fire us up] and he makes big plays. We have to find ways to keep moving forward.”

Added wide receiver Tre McBride: “Zach was somebody I really looked up to when I first got here. Really cool guy. Really down to earth. He was one of the first people to talk to me when I joined the Bears. I am going to miss him this season. ... Every play and every down, I’ll be playing with him in mind.”

Shaheen can’t be expected to play the role of Miller inside the locker room. Veteran Dion Sims is still the No. 1 tight end on the roster, and Daniel Brown also has experience in the tight-ends room.

But Shaheen is supposed to be a playmaker. That’s what the Bears billed him as coming out of tiny Ashland University.

Look, the Bears have every right to be thrilled with their 2017 draft class. Three of the five members are starters: Trubisky, Cohen and safety Eddie Jackson, who recently won NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

But it’s OK to want more from the second-rounder -- regardless of where he played his college ball.