Ian Bunting Gets Big Chance With Bears

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By 670 The Score
CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- The preseason debut for Bears rookie tight end Ian Bunting could be defined by consecutive plays in the third quarter.

On a first-and-10 with 5:45 to go, Bunting was flagged for holding that wiped out a six-yard run by fellow rookie Kerrith Whyte Jr. Then on the replay of first down, Bunting hauled in a 23-yard reception that made good on his miscue.

The Hinsdale native Bunting got the biggest opportunity of any tight end in the Bears' preseason opener, a 23-13 loss to the Panthers at Soldier Field on Thursday night. He caught three passes for 77 yards, though he also had that holding and a false start penalty.

In the postgame locker room, Bunting was looking at what he could improve.

"Certainly was not a perfect game," Bunting said. "Made a fair amount of mistakes. I'll learn from those going forward."

A 6-foot-7 target, Bunting first grabbed the Bears' attention during a local pro day held at Halas Hall. He played in a combined 47 college games at Michigan (undergrad) and Cal (grad transfer) but never produced much. He had a career-high 18 receptions with the Golden Bears in 2018.

But the Bears were willing to look past the numbers and trust their scouting instincts in evaluating Bunting, in whom they saw potential. He was signed by Chicago as an undrafted free agent.

"I like his size," Bears coach Matt Nagy said of Bunting. "He's a big kid, he's super smart, he's really smart. He has big hands. A lot of times when people (have) big hands, they're natural catchers. He's a natural pass catcher. We're testing him out in the run game, we're testing him out in pass protection. 

"This is just a really good opportunity for him to see how much can he digest in this playbook, and then when the plays come to him and he gets a chance to make a play, does he make it? He did a good job with that. He executed everything we asked him to do, and it was productive for him."

That Bunting received such an opportunity Thursday is notable. The Bears rested tight ends Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen, each of whom has been sidelined during parts of training camp. How the team plans to form its depth at tight end is still unclear, but Nagy has been eager to evaluate the position in the preseason.

Bunting knows well what chance he has with the Bears. He wasn't trying to overcomplicate anything in taking to Soldier Field.

"The message was just go out there, play free, show what you can do on tape," Bunting said. "Just play hard. 

"I'm just trying to take it day by day, do my job."

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