For all the work the Bears did overhauling their tight end room, the early results aren’t much better than they were last season.
To clean up after an egregious draft error in Adam Shaheen and the health concerns that led to Trey Burton’s exit, general manager Ryan Pace used a second-round pick on Cole Kmet, signed Jimmy Graham for two years and $16 million and added Demetrius Harris for $1.7 million, just for good measure.
Those three have totaled five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown — a collective output that has been exceeded 17 times by individual tight ends around the league this season.
‘‘I am really happy with how they’re playing,’’ coach Matt Nagy said, taking a lonely stance. ‘‘Production-wise and stat-line-wise, right now, you for sure don’t see what we want it to be. But I’m OK with that because of the way that these two first games have gone.
‘‘Watch those guys block. That’s a huge part of this run game. . . . Those tight ends are getting after it, and they’re enjoying it. Check out some of the effort by Jimmy Graham in run-blocking and tell me what you think.’’
It’s nice that Graham, regarded almost exclusively as a pass-catching tight end, is blocking. It’s certainly helpful, but that’s not what has made him special and can’t possibly be what the Bears signed him to do. As good as his blocks are, his four catches for 43 yards are a letdown.
If this is as good as it gets, the Bears are on pace to do negligibly better than the combined 46 catches, 416 yards and two touchdowns their tight ends put up last season.
All four tight ends — don’t forget J.P. Holtz — have yet to dispel concerns that hovered over them during the offseason:
• Most of the NFL seemed to think Graham was far past his prime, and there already have been incomplete passes in which he didn’t look like the unstoppable player everyone remembers.
• Kmet was arguably the best college tight end in the country at Notre Dame last season, but it almost always takes time for players at his position to adjust to the NFL. Only three rookie tight ends have topped 600 yards receiving in the last two decades.
• Harris never has been much of a factor in the passing game — his career high is 18 catches in 2017 — and the odds are against that changing in his seventh season.
• Holtz was a specialized player moonlighting as a fullback last season and had an occasional cameo in the air attack. There was never much thought he would be something else this season.
The essence of Pace’s plan is that Graham is the present and Kmet is the future — with that future hopefully arriving a little early. And while Kmet was impressive in training camp, the regular season brought the same reality that hits most rookie tight ends: He’s not there yet.
Nagy called Kmet ‘‘the real deal’’ but preached patience and projected ‘‘a gradual increase’’ in playing time and production. Playing behind Harris, Kmet has gotten 32.3% of the snaps and has one catch for 12 yards.
‘‘The speed of the game is something that’s amplified from college; everybody’s kind of on your level,’’ Kmet said. ‘‘There were times in college where you could be a little late off the snap and overpower a guy or get ahead of a guy. But everybody’s got to be on the details when you’re playing against professionals. I’ve really realized that for these first two games.’’
That’s normal. That’s OK. It just doesn’t help the Bears a lot at the moment.
So unless Graham starts playing like he used to or until Kmet acclimates, tight end will continue to be a glaring deficiency in the Bears’ passing game. And that’s a huge problem in an offense where it’s second only to quarterback in importance.