Trey Burton is still limited by a groin injury that required offseason surgery and caused the Bears tight end to sit out the season opener against the Packers. But coach Matt Nagy is seeing some positive signs.
"He's definitely trending upward in his health," Nagy said. "I'm not seeing him regressing health-wise to where he's playing slower or you see him physically getting beaten. But he's not 100 percent yet. We knew that at this point right now he wasn't going to be. But he's a valuable asset there with us, helping us in that area."
In his first season with the Bears last year, Burton established career highs in all receiving categories with 54 catches, 569 yards and six touchdowns while starting all 16 games. But he hasn't been as much of a factor in 2019, compiling 13 receptions for 68 yards and no TDs. His yards-per-catch average has been cut in half from 10.5 last season to 5.2 this year.
Burton described dealing with the injury as "very challenging" and "really frustrating."
"I wouldn't choose to do this by any means," he said. "But I'm happy to be out there and I'm excited to play."
The tight end position as a whole has not produced up to expectations for the Bears so far this year; the four other tight ends on the 53-man roster have combined to catch just 13 catches, 121 yards and no TDs: Adam Shaheen (9-74), Ben Braunecker (2-24), J.P. Holtz (2-23) and Bradley Sowell (0-0).
"It's a culmination of a lot of different things," Nagy said. "We had some injuries early on. We do have a lot of tight ends on our roster right now [and] they're all a little bit different, whether it's special-teams related, what they have with their physical traits, size, ability, all that."
Ground up: In the last two games, the Bears defense hasn't been as physical as in the past, especially against the run. The unit has allowed an average of 160.0 yards rushing in its last two outings after yielding 61.5 yards on the ground in the first four games of the season.
"There hasn't been that physicality," Nagy said. "They know that. None of it is because of a lack of want. A lot of it just comes down to there are certain plays and certain parts of the game that it's not getting done, and it was before.
"This is no excuse, but we lost Akiem Hicks on the inside, so there's a little bit there. Now, we had our guys step up against Minnesota, and that's what we're going to continue to need on that front line with the d-line, to not get to second level. When you stop that, then second level is open, and you can make plays.
"There's a little bit of everything right now. It all gets magnified when you lose, in every area. We know that. We accept that, and we want to make sure we do everything we can to prevent, whether it's someone's play or effort or execution, we want to do our job as coaches, and the players want to do their job and just stick together and play."
Seeking improvement: Like the rest of the defense, linebacker Roquan Smith hasn't performed as well in recent weeks as he did earlier in the season.
"He can definitely play better, and he knows that," Nagy said. "And he's going to; I think he will. We all know exactly what we've all done together in the last couple weeks. It's a part of where we're at right now.
"He's doing everything he can. None of it is because of lack of effort or want or any of that. And none of it is because of the lack of couldn't. We all look at each other. We all want to help each other out. And we feel like we all can coach and play better."
Smith's playing time decreased in last Sunday's loss to the Saints to 69.2 percent of the defensive snaps. His percentages in his first four games of the season were 98.4, 100, 92.2 and 88.9.
Asked if the linebacker's decline in play and play-time has been the result of the undisclosed personal issue that prevented him from participating in a Week 4 win over the Vikings. Nagy said: "I can't personally answer that. I don't know that."
Healthy team: Defensive back Sherrick McManis, who remains in concussion protocol, was the only Bears player who did not practice Wednesday.
Bears players hit the Halas Hall practice fields on Wednesday as the team prepares to host the Los Angeles Chargers.