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So far, Bears rookie TE Cole Kmet ‘looks the part’

Despite the limitations of the COVID-19 offseason, ‘‘all indications are that he’ll be able to put it together when the defense is [on the field],’’ offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said.

Rookie tight end Cole Kmet (84, with Notre Dame last season against Boston College) has impressed the Bears coaching staff as a quick learner during the offseason.
Rookie tight end Cole Kmet (84, with Notre Dame last season against Boston College) has impressed the Bears coaching staff as a quick learner during the offseason.
Michael Conroy/AP

Bears rookie tight end Cole Kmet is a classic candidate for the training camp hype machine.

He’s the Bears’ highest-drafted rookie this year. He’s a Chicagoan. He comes from Notre Dame. He has all the qualities of a difference-making player. He plays a position of dire need. And, perhaps most of all, he has yet to fail.

But all the Bears really know about Kmet at this point is that he’s the same player they drafted 43rd overall in April. Like all rookies, Kmet has been stunted in his development by the limitations of the coronavirus pandemic.

So, in early August, he still hasn’t participated in a full-fledged NFL training camp practice. He has participated in walk-throughs and even some full-speed reps — though not yet against a defense. But at least coaches have finally seen him on the field. Until then, all they’d observed about the 6-6, 262-pound Kmet was that he learns well.

“The first thing that strikes you — with Zoom meetings — is that he’s a very quick study,” tight ends coach Clancy Barone said. “The guy’s very bright, which we also knew from the [scouting] combine and all the [draft] research we did. But when you actually get to see him . . . he certainly looks the part. He’s as big as advertised. He’s in tremendous condition — very lean. He’s a big, thick-bodied guy and extremely athletic.”

It’s presumed rookies might take a slower route to impact than normal this season because they haven’t been able to learn on the field. And they won’t have the benefit of preseason games.

The Bears can live with that likelihood for much of their 2020 rookie class. Even if second-round pick Jaylon Johnson doesn’t win the cornerback job right away, the Bears’ loaded defense figures to survive with veteran Kevin Tolliver until Johnson is ready. The other rookies — all drafted in the fifth round or later, including outside linebacker Trevis Gipson and wide receiver Darnell Mooney — are players the Bears can wait for.

But Kmet is an exception. Playing a vital position in coach Matt Nagy’s offense, Kmet is being counted on to at least be productive as a rookie. So far, the Bears remain hopeful.

“We have been able to evaluate his movement skills. We’re very happy with him,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “We’re able to evaluate him in meetings answering questions. So far, all indications are that he’ll be able to put it together when the defense is [on the field] and he’s got to go.”

That’s the huge next step — seeing Kmet operate against a defense at full speed.

“When the ball’s snapped and things start moving, it’s an adjustment period,” Lazor said. “Will he get it the first time? Will it be, ‘OK, I messed it up, I’ll get it the second time’? Or will it take three years to develop? None of us knows until we get there. My hope is pretty high right now [based on] what we’ve seen in meetings and [on the field].”