New kid on the block: Cole Kmet still on target for impact in 2020

The rookie tight end has one catch for 12 yards — and just three targets — in his first five games. But the Bears are confident he’ll become a bigger weapon. “Everyone is on the Cole Kmet train.”

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Bears tight end Cole Kmet (85) blocks Lions linebacker Christian Jones to give Mitch Trubisky time to throw in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 27-23 victory at Ford Field on Sept. 13.

Bears tight end Cole Kmet (85) blocks Lions linebacker Christian Jones to give Mitch Trubisky time to throw in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 27-23 victory at Ford Field on Sept. 13.

Leon Halip/Getty Images

Bears rookie tight end Cole Kmet didn’t catch a pass last week against the Buccaneers. In fact, he wasn’t even targeted once.

But he still made an impression on tight ends coach Clancy Barone with a solid block on Bucs outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul on the Bears’ first offensive play — a jet sweep to Cordarrelle Patterson. And it wasn’t just Barone who was impressed.

“When the game was over, I came back [and] I had three text messages on my phone from various NFL coaches — and they were line coaches and tight end coaches,” Barone said. “I had a couple of calls on my drive home from some of my peers around the league, and they were all talking about the same thing — the very first play of the game and something that will never show up in any box score.”

The play gained only two yards for the Bears. But to Barone and his friends, Kmet showed athleticism, strength and technique against a quality pass rusher, which bodes well for a first-year player.

“He didn’t just reach JPP and gain leverage,” Barone said. “He strained his hips through the block and actually flipped his hips and gave us a nice seam to go around. I have not seen that from very many players in my time in the NFL.

“It was an amazing block. Things like that tell you that this game is not too big for Cole. We all know that mentally, he’s got everything under control.”

But Barone knows Kmet wasn’t drafted in the second round (43rd overall) just to block in coach Matt Nagy’s offense. His primary function is to catch, run and score touchdowns. And even though it’s well-established that it takes rookie tight ends time to mature into receiving threats, Kmet’s minimal production in the passing game has been noticeable — just three targets and one catch for 12 yards in five games.

Kmet had the misfortune of an abbreviated and limited offseason program and no preseason because of the pandemic. Still, with Bears coaches raving about his ability to learn quickly, and going by his actual play in training camp practices, it appeared he could still be a factor in the passing game as a rookie.

Bears coaches are probably already frustrated with questions about why Kmet isn’t a bigger factor — the offensive version of “Why isn’t Leonard Floyd getting any sacks?” But at least with Kmet, it’s still very early.

As Barone pointed out, Kmet has played 93 snaps so far — about the amount he would get in the preseason.

“I think he’s right on schedule,” Barone said. “When I had Julius Thomas in Denver . . . he went on to break Shannon Sharpe’s single-season touchdown record with the Broncos. In his first 24 starts in the NFL, he had 24 touchdowns. But it took him three years to get that first NFL start. People don’t remember that.”

Three years?

“It’s not gonna take Cole three years to get his first NFL touchdown, I can promise you that,” Barone said. “But I have no worries. Cole has no worries. Jimmy Graham has no worries. Demetrious Harris has no worries about Cole. Everyone is on the Cole Kmet train. There’s no worries whatsoever.”

Tight end in Nagy’s offense is so naunced that the position grows as the offense grows. And, as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor candidly pointed out, the offense isn’t there yet.

“Nothing wrong with Cole. The problem is us,” Lazor said. “Honestly, we were better [against the Buccaneers], but we’re not completing enough passes. When you don’t complete passes, you’re not converting third down. We’re not staying on the field. That’s where we are. Other than some heroics to win some games — which we’re thrilled with — it’s hard to say we’ve been in a rhythm where you do what you want to do.”

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