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Toughness paves the way for Holtz


In the week after the season opener, coach Matt Nagy addressed the team's decision to acquire another tight end, bringing the number of active roster players at the position to five.

"We just feel that he's an interesting piece for us offensively," said Nagy. "There's some things that he can do, without getting into the extreme detail. We obviously liked him to claim him. We'll see what he can do."

Last week, that player, J.P. Holtz, led the team in receiving yards, the first time a Bears tight end has done so this season. Injuries to Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Ben Braunecker have propelled Holtz from the team's blocking fullback to an important part of the team's rejuvenated offense.

On Monday, Nagy addressed the increased usage of Holtz and undrafted rookie Jesper Horsted.

"We're trying to figure out the best way to use them," said Nagy. "I want to credit them, especially J.P. Holtz; here's a kid that's come in here and done everything that we've asked, and he's helped us out at that 'Y'position."

After spending three seasons mostly on the practice squads of the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns, Holtz recorded his first professional catch in Week 4 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Finally catching on in his fourth season out of Pittsburgh, Holtz said that he didn't expect to play such a significant role for the Bears when he arrived in Chicago in September. He was aware, however, that his window to catch on in the NFL might have been closing.

"It's been a crazy journey," said Holtz. "I just kept my head down and worked. I knew if something happened, it was meant to happen. If not, then I'd be done."

While Holtz was involved in the passing game in college, catching 24 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns as a senior, he's always prided himself more in the less flashy parts of his game.

"I like to say I'm a pretty decent blocker in the run game," said Holtz. "I feel like I can bring that to the table for this team. I think that's why they brought me in. I just do what they ask me to do."

Tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride said that Holtz has created opportunities for himself through his physicality, whether playing at the 'Y' position or fullback.

"He's a tough kid," said Gilbride. "Anything we ask him to do that's of a physical nature that other people might bat an eye at, he does not. He just takes it on full steam."

Gilbride said that Holtz has been consistent in his ball skills at practice, bringing the same intensity to route-running that he does to hitting.

"Everything he does," said Gilbride, "he does with that same approach, which is fun to be around."

While opposing teams have come to know Holtz as a ferocious blocker, the Bears were able to show off the tight end's ball skills on a 19-yard strike downfield and a wide-open screen that went for 30 yards. According to Gilbride, the receiving success against the Cowboys is connected to his reputation as a blocker.

"I think he's always kind of had [ability as a receiver]," said Gilbride. "It's just a matter of when you get involved in the running game, and the defense starts to not pay that much attention to you, it opens up opportunities for you. I think that's it more than anything."

Both Nagy and Gilbride said that Holtz's targets would depend on what opposing defenses give them. However, both acknowledged that he had exceeded initial expectations. Holtz is just grateful to see his three years of perseverance paying off.

"I'm finally getting my shot this year," said Holtz. "I'm going to do whatever I have to do to make this team win."