New Bears TE Demetrius Harris vows he’ll have a breakthrough receiving season

The position is more wide-open than it might look at first glance, and Harris will get a real chance to earn a significant role.

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Demetrius Harris faced the Bears in a 2016 preseason game at Soldier Field.

Demetrius Harris faced the Bears in a 2016 preseason game at Soldier Field.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Bears brought in a five-time Pro Bowl selection and used their first pick in the NFL Draft at the position, but tight end is wide-open. That’s where unheralded newcomer Demetrius Harris sees opportunity.

Harris hasn’t been much of a factor catching passes in his six seasons, but he thinks a reunion with coach Matt Nagy might lead to a breakthrough. Nagy was an assistant with the Chiefs when Harris played for them in his first four seasons, and Harris thinks their history sets him up to emerge as a receiving threat.

‘‘That’s something I know I can do,’’ he said Wednesday. ‘‘And I know a coach that believed in me and knows I can do it, too, that . . . has seen the growth in me. So, yeah, I most definitely can do it, and I’m going to do it.’’

The Bears are desperate after getting barely anything out of their tight ends in 2019. It is the most important and scrutinized non-quarterback position in their offense, and the entire room combined for 46 catches, 416 yards and two touchdowns last season.

It went off-track when Trey Burton struggled to get healthy during training camp. General manager Ryan Pace responded by cutting Burton this offseason, then signed Jimmy Graham to a two-year, $16 million contract and drafted Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet with the 43rd pick overall.

The Bears are set to spend $13.9 million in cap space at tight end this season, according to Spotrac, and that ranks seventh in the NFL. That doesn’t include dead money on Burton, which will be about $7.5 million over the next two years.

Graham and Kmet are penciled in at the top of the depth chart, and Harris is just another face in the crowd behind them. But there’s no certainty it’ll stay that way.

Graham’s career seems to be fading at 33. And while he’ll do everything he can to stave off decline, he’s coming off an underwhelming season with the Packers. He had 447 receiving yards — his fewest since his rookie season — and lost his starting job for part of the season.

Kmet was the highest-rated tight end in the draft class, but this was widely seen as a weak year at that spot. Furthermore, the extensive responsibility in the playbook and the step up in weight class make it arguably the most difficult position for the college-to-pro transition. Kmet might be a star one day, but the Bears can’t bank on that this season.

The Bears like the 6-7, 230-pound Harris’ combination of blocking ability and athleticism (he played college basketball for Milwaukee), and he has a good grasp of the offense from his time with the Chiefs.

‘‘We think he’s still getting better,’’ Pace said. ‘‘We think he can kind of flourish in the scheme that we have.’’

Harris’ first goal will be to prove he can compete with Graham and Kmet by putting himself a clear step ahead of Ben Braunecker, J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted. While Harris has been in the league longer than those three, he has put up 50 receiving yards or more in only two of his 86 career games.

Harris’ most productive season was 2017, when he had 18 catches for 224 yards and a touchdown with Nagy as his offensive coordinator.

He never was going to get a big share of targets with the Chiefs with Travis Kelce around, and Harris thought it was time to look elsewhere as a free agent a year ago. He went to the Browns, but that didn’t turn out like he hoped. He had 149 yards and three touchdowns on 15 catches.

‘‘With this offense that I know, I love — I’m so happy to be back in this offense,’’ Harris said.

It might be the perfect combination for him: a system he likes and an open spot for which to fight. And if he thrives, a signing that went mostly unnoticed in mid-February might pay off substantially.

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