What to Expect from Cole Kmet and Bears Tight Ends
With almost no production from tight ends last year, the Bears moved into this training camp using an entirely new cast over what they had on hand when the 2019 season began.
Instead of a rehab project, it became a reconstruction which actually began during last season.
Of course free agent acquisitions Jimmy Graham and DeMetrius Harris were elsewhere and second-round draft pick Cole Kmet was still at Notre Dame.
But when the Bears started their 2019 season they didn't even have J.P. Holtz, Eric Saubert and Darion Clark. The only tight end still at Lake Forest who was in the building last opening day was Jesper Horsted, who was cut and brought back to the practice squad.
How much can a team expect after such a tremendous turnover? It depends largely on what the Bears can squeeze out of 33-year-old Graham, and if they can find a way for Kmet to contribute more than most tight ends do as rookies.
Graham still rated among the top half of the league's tight ends at catch percentage and yards after making the catch last year, he just wasn't targeted as much by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers—only 60 times, 29 fewer than in the old offense during 2018.
Kmet making a high number of receptions would be contrary to what players like Austin Hooper, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Kyle Rudolph and Darren Waller did as rookies.
And Harris has never been anything more than a third or second tight end with any team.
What the Bears can expect from adding those three is better red zone chances. All three are 6-foot-6 or taller. Harris' best contribution in Kansas City and Cleveland has been as a red-zone receiver.
What the Bears pretty much know is their tight end blocking will need to be addressed.
Kmet himself said after the draft he looks forward to improving as a blocker.
"I see him as a blocker, a guy who is certainly willing," tight ends coach Clancy Barone said. "And I think blocking, for a tight end, it's being willing and it's a mindset. And he has both of those. I see a very high ceiling for Cole Kmet."
Barone even thinks he can coax a block or two from Graham.
"When I was with the Chargers, of course, I had (Anthony) Gates, I had Julius Thomas with the Broncos and so forth, and they were outstanding receiving tight ends," Barone said. "But they also had the mindset to block when they were asked to.
"There is no question in my mind that Jimmy's also that guy. He'll do whatever we ask him to do. I promise you that."
Filling out the other positions looks tricky, with Holtz holding a bit of an edge because he has experience being a lead blocker or fullback type and the team has no one else like this. Horsted was a project brought along last year and could still be a practice squad player.
They could keep five tight ends, stash someone on the practice squad, and after last season they should know enough to keep any and all phone numbers of tight ends cut handy because you never know when you're going to need to bring in more.