Bears' Jesper Horsted Has Chance To Catch On

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- When Bears tight end Jesper Horsted steps onto an NFL field for the first time in a regular-season game -- perhaps Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field -- it will hit him.

"I would be nervous if I were to go out and be the ball boy for this game," Horsted joked Wednesday after being promoted from the practice squad to the Bears' active roster. 

"I'm also really excited. I feel way more confident than I did in the preseason."

The Bears are turning to the undrafted rookie Horsted, Princeton's all-time leader in receptions and touchdowns, after suffering attrition at the position. They lost top "U" tight end Trey Burton (calf/groin) to injured reserve last Saturday and could be without "Y" tight end Adam Shaheen (foot) for an extended period of time.

Signed to the Bears as an undrafted free agent and converted receiver last spring, Horsted has bulked up 15 pounds to a weight of 240. And that has only been a part of his acclimation.

Each Saturday after the Bears finish their walk-through, Horsted has joined fellow rookie tight end Dax Raymond and tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride for a meeting. They have sat down and reviewed the work of Horsted and Raymond as they operated on the scout team against the Bears' starting defense. 

While the work inside the tight ends room has been primarily focused on starters like Burton and Shaheen during the week, the Saturday sessions have been catered to the two rookies.

Gilbride tells his rookies to come prepared with questions -- how to improve receiving routes, what to refine in blocking techniques and things of that nature -- and the quick studies in Horsted and Raymond have embraced it. 

"They have been working their butts off, both of them," Gilbride said.

Both Horsted and Raymond have found great benefit in the opportunity to sit down with Gilbride.

"That's been huge for my development," Horsted said.

In March 2018, the Bears signed Burton to a four-year, $32-million deal with the hopes he could fill the pivotal U role in coach Matt Nagy's offense. Burton produced 54 receptions for 569 yards and five touchdowns in 2018, but injuries have hampered him ever since he missed the team's wild-card round loss early last January.

Burton underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia in the spring and wasn't close to full health until mid-August. Then he suffered another groin injury a week later, and he never fully recovered. During the Bears' win over the Lions on Nov. 10, Burton suffered a calf injury. The combination of injuries forced the Bears to shut him down. He posted just 14 receptions for 84 yards and no scores this season.

Whether Burton will remain as the Bears' top U tight end is uncertain. Before considering any major changes, the team wants to give an opportunity to Ben Braunecker and Horsted.

The Bears have seen potential in Horsted ever since evaluating his play at Princeton.

"Great ball skills," Braunecker said of Horsted. "You saw it in the preseason -- his catch radius is tremendous. His hands are great. He has a knack of getting open, separating at the top of routes. Good wide receiver traits. He knows how to get in and out of breaks, separate from coverage, all of that. And he's coming along in the run game. I think this week will be a good challenge and a big step up for him. I think he'll enjoy it."

The 6-foot-3 Horsted set Princeton records with 196 catches and 28 touchdowns. He then arrived to the Bears on a crowded tight end depth chart and battled back from a training camp injury to record eight receptions for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the final two preseason contests.

It was enough to earn a place on the practice squad and the chance to keep proving himself. After wondering whether Horsted would catch on, the Bears are now giving him an opportunity for the taking.

Once the nerves subside, Horsted will trust the work he put in to reach this point.

"It is a new position," Horsted said. "Even though I'm a fast study, it's going to take time -- more than just a few months. I'm going the right direction."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.