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Welcome, rookie? Cole Kmet can’t wait to play — and learn

“It’s pretty surreal now,” the Bears rookie tight end said on the eve of his first NFL game Sunday against the Lions at Ford Field. “I’m excited to get out there and play finally and show what I can do.’’

The Bears did not have a tight end with more than 91 receiving yards last season (and that was J.P. Holtz, a blocking tight end). They expect much more production this season with Cole Kmet (85), Jimmy Graham (80) and Demetrius Harris (86).
The Bears did not have a tight end with more than 91 receiving yards last season (and that was J.P. Holtz, a blocking tight end). They expect much more production this season with Cole Kmet (85), Jimmy Graham (80) and Demetrius Harris (86).
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

This is the moment Bears rookie tight end Cole Kmet has been waiting for.

“It’s pretty surreal now,” Kmet said Friday on the eve of his first NFL game Sunday against the Lions at Ford Field. “I’m excited to get out there and play finally and show what I can do. I’m just excited to go out there and get this win.”

The opener is a chance for Kmet to show not only what he can do, but how well he can learn. The second-round draft pick from Notre Dame and St. Viator already is a quick learner. But for a tight end in Matt Nagy’s offense, there are nuances and tricks that can only be learned on the field at game speed. Looking like a blocker when you’re a receiver, using body language to fool your opponent and other arts of deception to get open — little things that can make all the difference.

“Obviously, I’m really looking forward to that,” Kmet said. “I missed out on part of that this preseason with no preseason games. The NFL game is a little bit different than the college game is, so [I’m] just looking forward to competing against these guys and finding ways for myself to get open. I’m looking forward to all that, so it should be a lot of fun.”

It remains to be seen how much Kmet will play in the opener, but his snap count will be an indicator of how much Nagy thinks he’s ready for. The 6-6, 258-pounder looked the part in training camp. But it’s real now.

Kmet already knows there’s more to the game than just following the playbook. After a recent appearance on Greg Olsen’s podcast, he talked with the former Bears tight end about what it takes to be successful in the NFL.

“His biggest thing for me was, ‘Don’t run the lines in the book,’ ” Kmet said. “We all get a playbook at the beginning and you get these lines that show you, ‘OK, this is a corner route.’ But you don’t want to run the lines in the book. Be creative in your route running.

“That’s something that Travis Kelce [the Chiefs’ All-Pro tight end] has talked about and Jimmy [Graham] talks about, too. That was something that’s kind of stuck with me and kind of a common theme among all these great tight ends that I’ve listened to has been not to run the lines of the book. Use those as suggestions as to where you need to be and when you need to get there in time with the quarterback. In terms of how you exactly run the route, there’s a lot of things you can do within one route to get open.”

After the tight end position became a black hole in the offense with the demise of Trey Burton last season, the Bears upgraded the position by signing veterans Graham and Demetrius Harris in free agency and taking Kmet in the second round of the draft.

Based on training-camp practices, it seems likely the Bears will look to their tight ends more this season. It’s just a matter of how much production they’ll get in the regular season.

“All those guys are big targets,” Nagy said earlier in training camp. “I really like what coach Clancy [Barone] is doing with those tight ends. They’re feeding off of Jimmy’s energy, his excitement, his swagger, and then Demetrius is the same way.

“We’ll see. We like where they’re at. They’re all a little bit different, so it makes it fun to be able to call plays with those guys.”