Bears bank on education of Cole Kmet, from film study to ‘Tight End U’

Intrigued by his toughness after the catch and ability to find soft spots in the defense, the Bears have vowed to use Kmet more than they did last season.

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Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings

Tight end Cole Kmet warms up before the Bears’ game against the Vikings.

Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

In May, tight end Cole Kmet would walk upstairs to coach Matt Nagy’s office to watch film of routes run in Nagy’s offensive system over the years. The Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, the best tight end on the planet, sprinted all over the screen.

In June, Kmet got to pick Kelce’s brain in person. Inspired by Von Miller’s pass-rush summit, three tight ends — Kelce, the 49ers’ George Kittle and the retired Greg Olsen — launched “Tight End University” in Nashville, Tennessee. For three days, 49 tight ends worked out together, studied in the classroom and mingled at night.

“Being able to feed off one another was great,” Kmet said Thursday after the Bears’ training-camp practice. “I got a lot out of it and definitely felt like I belonged there, for sure. . . .

“For me, watching receivers is nice, but I can’t do the stuff that Darnell Mooney does — I’m not that fast. So being able to go get guys like [the Dolphins’] Mike Gesicki and [the Patriots’] Hunter Henry and Travis and George and Greg and learn from those guys, that’s very beneficial for me.”

Kelce left him with one important lesson: “Don’t run the line in the book.” However you have to get to the spot to catch the ball, do it — even if it’s not drawn up that way. 

“Stay on the quarterback’s timing and be where you have to be,” Kmet said. “But be creative with your routes. Just as long as you’re on that quarterback’s timing and you get in the right spot and you’re open, I mean, no one’s going to say anything.”

The Bears are planning on Kmet getting open a lot this year. Intrigued by his toughness after the catch and ability to find soft spots in the defense, the Bears have vowed to use Kmet more than they did last season. You could see it coming. Before December, he had eight catches on 14 targets for 94 yards and two touchdowns. From December on, he had 20 catches on 30 targets for 149 yards and one touchdown.

“With Cole, his role is definitely going to increase,” Nagy said.

The Bears won’t try to make him into Kelce. They play different positions, for one. Kmet is what the Bears call a “Y” tight end — an in-line blocker — while Kelce and Bears vet Jimmy Graham play the “U” tight end pass-catching role.  

Another important caveat: Not everyone is Kelce or Rob Gronkowski. For every deserving member of the NFL’s modern tight end renaissance, there are a dozen who were foolishly compared to those stars. Adam Shaheen, the Bears’ failed 2017 second-round pick, had the nickname “Baby Gronk’’ — when he played D-II football.

Kmet has patterned his game after Gronkowski, another in-line tight end, but also after two-time All-Pro Mark Bavaro, whose last NFL game came five years before he was born. Both played at Notre Dame, and for Kmet, watching Bavaro on film was a rite of passage. 

“Grainy tape,” Kmet said with a smile. “But it’s good tape.”

So was the Kelce footage that Nagy showed Kmet. And the film of Gronkowski that Nagy hopes will give the 6-6, 258-pounder a better sense of how to use his bulk.

‘‘With my size and the way I’m able to move, I need to figure out what my strengths and weaknesses are,” he said, “and how I can get better at those strengths and minimize those weaknesses.’’

After the film session, the Bears — and Kmet — are about to find out.

“Now,” Nagy said, “he gets to do it in training camp.”

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