By Chris Emma

By Chris Emma—

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – Often times during his first NFL training camp, Bears rookie tight end Adam Shaheen practiced in front of more fans than his college games with Division-II Ashland University.

Sunday at Soldier Field was an entirely different experience for Shaheen, Chicago’s second-round pick. It was something he had never experienced before, taking the field to play for nearly 60,000 fans.

“That was just a ton of fun,” Shaheen said. “Honestly, a ton of fun — from the national anthem all the way through. Didn’t like the outcome, obviously, but it was a blast.”

To say Shaheen is experiencing a major jump to this level is a great understatement. The atmosphere of an NFL stadium of course is just part of this new challenge.

Shaheen played just four snaps on offense in the opener, his NFL debut. Two of those plays came in three-tight end sets, and the other two saw him lined up as a complement to Dion Sims. A 6-foot-6, 270-pound potential mismatch, Shaheen wasn’t targeted once.

So, where was Shaheen?

“The transition to the pro game for tight ends — particularly in the blocking part of it — I think is an adjustment for all tight ends,” Bears coach John Fox said. “I’ve seen a lot of them come through and (blocking) is usually kind of the last thing that kind of comes. But I like his progress, and I think things have slowed down for him. Obviously, going from Ashland to the NFL is a little bit of a jump. And then in games, I think it does take time to adjust like it does with all rookies.”

Added Shaheen of his growth: “I’m getting there, slowly but surely.”

Early in training camp, Shaheen frequently flashed. It wasn’t inconceivable that he would play a key role for that season opener. But as Week 1 neared, he was struggling with the learning curve. A potential role was put aside until he could show readiness for this level.

The Bears lacked the faith to line him up out wide for goal-to-go from the five-yard line with the game hanging in the balance. They didn’t even consider using him as a mismatch – or even a decoy.

Shaheen must earn his place consistently in practice before being that game-changer on Sundays.

“They want to see that I can make plays in the passing game,” Shaheen said. “Right now, we have two great tight ends ahead of me that are playing great football. For me right now, my role is on coming in and doing the dirty work blocking.  I love that too. But when the opportunity comes to make a play with the ball in my hand, that’s what I got to do.”

Improvement for Shaheen comes one percent at a time, he said. The focus is on stacking little details of his game each day and mastering them until he becomes a complete player. While improvement has been “night-and-day” from the preseason, there’s still more progress to be made.

Last Sunday, the Bears unleashed “joker” back Tarik Cohen as a game-breaker for their offense. With the receiving corps in disarray, they enjoyed a mismatch with the 5-foot-6 rookie Cohen lining up all over their formations. The Falcons weren’t ready to counter him.

For now, Shaheen is working a role in special teams – something with which he had little experience from Ashland. Coordinator Jeff Rodgers admires the work ethic of Shaheen in embracing this role. He’ll continue to serve a purpose with the offense, too.

The Bears envision Shaheen becoming a dominant tight end and mismatch all over the field in due time but also realized when selecting him in the second round that development would take time. After practice, he and rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky often work routes together and remain in lockstep for their day to come.

It’s one step forward and one percent better as Shaheen works toward a potentially promising future.

“Honestly, I’m just focused on one play at a time at this point,” he said. “I’m trying to do my job on that play. If I do that, two three years down the road, that will take care of itself.

“At this point, it’s about doing the job that I’m assigned with right now, and that’s going and kicking some ass on blocking. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

Watch & Listen LIVE