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‘Quicker ... faster ... stronger’: Bears tight end Cole Kmet poised for breakout season

With on-field practices giving him better “cohesion” with quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bears’ second-year tight end is hoping to be a bigger weapon in the passing game. “We’re all going to see a lot more of him,” coach Matt Nagy said.

Bears tight end Cole Kmet (85) had 20 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown in the final five regular-season games of his rookie season in 2020.
Bears tight end Cole Kmet (85) had 20 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown in the final five regular-season games of his rookie season in 2020.
David Berding/AP

As a rookie one year ago, Bears tight end Cole Kmet didn’t need a full offseason program to get acclimated to the NFL.

Even with a virtual introduction instead of an on-field one because of the limitations of the coronavirus and with no preseason games, Kmet was pegged as a likely rookie “hit” just off impressive training-camp practices.

Maybe that was more a testament to the Bears’ desperation for a productive tight end after the position was a virtual black hole in 2019, but Kmet modestly lived up to the hype.

With 28 receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns, Kmet wasn’t a sensation, but by the eye test he was as good as advertised — a player likely to grow in a more productive offense. Unlike Adam Shaheen, the 2017 second-round pick who never showed the matchup-nightmare, downfield passing-game skills he was purported to have, Kmet at least showed signs of living up to the Bears’ evaluation of him as a big-play offensive weapon.

With on-field OTAs this season, Kmet already is ahead of his rookie learning pace. “What I’ve noticed — not having [OTAs] last year and having them this year — is being able to get timing and kind of cohesion with Andy [Dalton] and the quarterbacks,” Kmet said. “Things as simple as cadence and how they articulate in the huddle and what they’re seeing and the timing of the throws and the routes are huge. I’ve already seen from Day 1 to now . . . a gradual increase [that] has been really good for me and I’m sure the other receivers as well.”

Along with fellow 2020 rookie Darnell Mooney, Kmet is one of the keys to a Bears offensive surge, a player poised for a breakthrough season if the offensive pieces come together under coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Nagy has been careful to not over-hype Kmet as the Bears’ version of Travis Kelce, whom Nagy coached with the Chiefs. But he is looking forward to growth in Year 2 under tight ends coach Clancy Barone.

“I envision a lot for him,” Nagy said. “He’s very similar to Darnell — he wants more. He wants to do everything he can. He’s so fun to coach. We’re all going to see a lot more of him and that’s important because he’s very talented and can do a lot of things.

“He creates matchups in the pass game and he can hold an edge and dent a defense in the run game, so that’s really exciting for us to be able to use him more. We all saw last year some stages there, middle-to-end of the year, where he started taking off and doing more things and that’s the expectations and the standards for us this year with him.”

With the Bears’ offense spinning its wheels for most of last season, Kmet was virtually invisible in the passing game. He had just eight receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown in the first 11 games — 37 of those yards on a catch-and-run vs. the Rams in Week 7.

But in the final five games of the regular season — when the offense rallied with Mitch Trubisky back at quarterback, Kmet had 20 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown on 30 targets — in particular with more production in the downfield passing game.

“After being a year in the offense and kind of understanding what coach Nagy and coach Lazor are doing with this offense, I’m a lot more comfortable with it,” Kmet said. “I’m stronger. I feel quicker and faster. Just a lot of confidence going in with the offense and in myself.”