Bears need ‘rock star’ performance from TE Cole Kmet

They’ll be banking on Kmet being one of their top pass catchers this season, and if he proves he’s a game-changing tight end, that would answer a big question about the Bears’ future.

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A photo of Bears tight end Cole Kmet from a 2021 game against the Seahawks.

Kmet had 60 catches for 612 yards and no touchdowns last season.

AP Photos

Having grown up a Bears fan and now playing for them, Cole Kmet loves the team too much to list everything it did that was counterproductive for his development in his first two seasons.

He’d rather steer the conversation to wins and losses than rehashing the dysfunction of Matt Nagy’s offense, the way Nagy was so slow to give him playing time as a rookie and how Jimmy Graham cut into his snaps in key situations.

But those were all hindrances that factor into the Bears not having a definitive answer on whether Kmet is the tight end they need for the long run. The hope, for team and player, is that clearing out all those problems will open the door for Kmet to prove himself.

The most advantageous change for Kmet is that he’ll be a full-time player in the red zone.

“I’m all ready for it,” he said after practice Friday. “And I’m going to do my best to get ready for it and take full advantage.”

Kmet had a decent 60 catches for 612 yards last season but no touchdowns. He got a team-high 21% of the red-zone targets (up from 7% his rookie season), but that’s lower than it should’ve been. And the Bears threw to him inside the 10-yard line just four times.

He also had eight games in which he played fewer than 80% of the snaps. Kmet should be an every-down tight end. That’s what he’s trying to be this season. It will require him to be competent as a blocker, deep threat, safety valve, scorer — everything.

“He’s got to get better at just about everything because he’s on the brink of taking his game to another level,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “I am hopeful that by the time we get through this camp, he is ready to be a rock star for us — because we’re going to need him to be.”

That’s especially true in an offense in which Darnell Mooney is the only sure thing at wide receiver. Others could emerge, but there’s an immediate need for reliable passing options.

But the big-picture implications of Kmet’s potential emergence are what really matter as general manager Ryan Poles continues working through this rebuild.

Kmet falls into the same pivotal category as quarterback Justin Fields, running back David Montgomery and safety Eddie Jackson. Poles’ top task is to determine which players should be part of this team in 2023 and beyond, and it could go either way for that group.

But any 2023 questions that Poles can answer will accelerate the Bears’ climb. He has loads of salary-cap space and draft capital coming after this season, but that won’t solve everything. If Kmet takes another significant step forward, Poles can cross tight end off his to-do list for the offseason.

The longer it takes to assess whether a player is good, the less likely it is that he is. Teams make the mistake of waiting too long on quarterbacks all the time. Kmet hasn’t reached that point yet, but he will after this season if he hasn’t quieted that -debate with his production.

And Kmet is fighting that impatience, as well.

“You want everything now,” he said. “I’m a young guy, and I’ve always had things hit quickly for me. But from guys I’ve talked to, it’s different for everybody.

“A lot of it is the situation — the way things are going around you [and] what offense you’re in. A lot of it is just trusting your process, creating a schedule for you and sticking to that, blocking out the outside noise and sticking to what you know.”

Much like quarterback, there’s a high bar to become a concrete answer at tight end. Poles came from the Chiefs, who have seen Travis Kelce break 1,000 yards for six seasons in a row. While it might seem unfair at first to compare Kmet to a future Hall of Famer, that’s the standard at the position. That’s what every team should aspire to find.

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