Bears tight end Khari Lee knows his stat sheet is unimpressive. In 16 games last year as a rookie, he had one catch for seven yards on three targets.
But Lee feels he still showed something.
“I showed I can play in this league,” Lee said. “I can be a good part of this offense. But there’s still a lot left to be done. I had one catch last year. I played a little bit of special teams. But the ceiling is still pretty high, and I think I can achieve that.”
The Bears have continued to look at free-agent tight ends, but they also will give Lee ample opportunities.
Lee, who played at Bowie State, entered the NFL as an undrafted free-agent signing by the Texans. But the Bears thought more of him and traded a 2017 sixth-round pick to acquire him before their final preseason game last year.
Lee was on the field for 11.8 percent of the offense’s snaps last season, seeing time primarily as a blocker. With Martellus Bennett gone, he is now behind Zach Miller.
“It’s not really replacing Marty,” Lee said. “Collectively as a [tight-end] unit, we’re going to go out there and play football to the best of our abilities.”
But Lee is the one going through practice with the starters.
“They have a lot of faith in me to get the job done and they think I can play the best to my abilities,” Lee said. “I just got to go out there and prove it.”
Tight ends coach Frank Smith said Lee needs to improve as a receiver. Lee has focused getting in and out of his cuts with speed, reading coverages and learning how to get better leverage.
His connection with quarterback Jay Cutler also requires work.
“I don’t think timing or camaraderie with you and the quarterback can be rushed,” Lee said. “You have to build that over time. You make plays for them and they’ll come to you and call your number a lot more often. It’s him getting comfortable.”
Lee, though, might be the Bears’ best blocking tight end.
“I feel like it’s a lost art a lot of the time with tight ends,” Lee said. “The flash and numbers and stuff are really what get guys paid, and that’s what jumps off the page.
“But guys who do the dirty work also deserve a lot of credit. I think you definitely add a lot of value to your team being able to stick your nose in there and block.”