Bears quarterback Nick Foles made a point to find tight end Cole Kmet on Friday and ask him how his rookie experience has been.
Kmet had a great chat with Foles and veteran tight end Jimmy Graham.
“I was honest with him in terms of how you start – obviously you go from college being the guy to now, where you’re more in a learning position,” Kmet said Friday. “And those two guys have been really great to me, and I’ve learned from them a lot. Obviously, they’ve dealt through their own experiences.”
It has been a slow start for the 21-year-old from Lake Barrington. To date, he has one reception for 12 yards. Kmet has yet to play more than 26 snaps in a game, no more than about a third of the Bears’ offensive plays.
Kmet was the big man on campus at Notre Dame last season. Now he’s third on the tight end depth chart. That can be hard for a rookie, especially a high draft pick with big expectations from the fan base.
“As a competitor, you want to be out there and you want to play, and you want to be making plays and whatnot,” Kmet said. “… It's just doing the little things day-in and day-out, staying to that grind and recognizing that there's a future to it. But you've got to just really put that work in.”
The tight end position is notoriously difficult to master for rookies. It’s a versatile position with many nuances. Kmet said he has learned a lot about blocking in the run game over the past few months, specifically stunts and understanding who the Mike linebacker is and how it affects the play.
The tight end position has been vital to the Bears’ 4-1 start, but it has been Graham stealing the show. Graham is the team’s second-leading receiver with 17 catches for 169 yards and four touchdowns.
Despite Kmet’s sparse usage in the pass game, the Bears coaches are adamant that he is doing all the right things. Bears tight ends coach Clancy Barone had multiple text and calls from fellow coaches around the league following the Thursday Night Football win over Tampa Bay. They were all raving about Kmet’s block on the Bears’ first offensive play of the game.
The Bears ran a jet sweep to Cordarrelle Patterson. Kmet was one-on-one against Tampa edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. Barone said the goal had been for Kmet to have help from a tackle, but the play didn’t work out that way.
“He’s out there all by himself,” Barone said. “Now JPP is a real defensive lineman. The guy's got a pretty good resume and here comes Cole. If I'm not mistaken, all the draft experts said that the biggest question mark coming out of Notre Dame was his blocking. He didn't just reach JPP and gain leverage. He strained his hips through the block and actually flipped his hips and gave us a nice seam to go around. I have not seen that from very many players in my time in the NFL.”
The play went for only two yards, but without Kmet’s block it would’ve resulted in a tackle for loss. Barone’s point is this: Kmet is doing more than the average viewer might notice.
Kmet has now seen 104 game reps, which Barone noted is about what a rookie would have through four preseason games in a normal year.
Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said this week that the lack of receptions for Kmet likely comes down to a crowded – and struggling – Bears offense. The Bears offense has been stagnant through stretches of games, which makes it difficult for any one player to see the number of touches he believes he should. Receiver Anthony Miller is another good example of that.
“We’re not doing what we want to do yet,” Lazor said. “So there’s going to be a whole lot of people not getting the ball enough.”
The rookie tight end is going to have to wait his turn, which only makes sense with two veterans ahead of them. No one can argue with Jimmy Graham’s one-handed touchdown grab last week and the spark Graham has provided in the red zone.
Kmet is just trying to remain patient.
“I can give coaches reasons to put me out there, but at the end of the day I don’t make that decision to put myself in the game,” Kmet said. “I’m just taking care of what I need to take care of at this point.”