Bears second-year tight end Cole Kmet has eight receptions for 59 yards and no touchdowns this season. | Kamil Krzaczynski/AP
The second-year tight end played a key role in the Bears’ focus on pass protection and establishing the running game against the Lions. But he’s here to make big plays downfield.
Bears tight end Cole Kmet was understandably excited about his blocking against the Lions on Sunday. The tight end group was used extensively to facilitate a rushing attack that produced 188 yards and three touchdowns in the Bears’ 24-14 victory.
“It’s a big deal,” Kmet said. “As a group I thought our entire team did a really good job with the blocking portion of everything. We’re more than willing to step up if that’s what we’ve got to do in order to win games.
“I thought we played a big part in that rushing attack Sunday, so we’re really happy with that. Looking forward to continuing to do that.”
Kmet’s development as a blocking tight end can’t be ignored — it’s expected to be a big part of his game. But after the Adam Shaheen experience, the focus on Kmet’s blocking four games into Year 2 already is looking more like a red flag than part of the process of Kmet becoming a dual threat tight end.
The 49ers’ George Kittle, a 2017 fifth-round draft pick, might be the prototypical blocking/receiving tight end in the NFL today when it comes to doing both facets of the job well. But by Week 5 of his second season in 2018, Kittle was coming off a six-catch, 125-yard performance against the Chargers — including an 82-yard touchdown — from back-up C.J. Beathard. Kittle was on his way to a Pro Bowl season — 88 receptions for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns.
In the Bears’ offense, Kmet isn’t even close. The second-round draft pick from Notre Dame and St. Viator has eight receptions for 59 yards and no touchdowns. That’s not quite the leap that was expected after Kmet finished strong as a receiving threat in his rookie season — 20 receptions for 149 yards and one touchdown in the final five games.
The Bears had five pass plays of 20 or more yards against the Lions and four plays that were 25 yards or more. But the tight ends were not on the receiving end of any of them. Kmet had one catch for six yards on three targets. Jimmy Graham had no targets.
Kmet said he’s looking forward to joining that party.
“For sure,” he said. “In our room, we’re optimistic about it all and we’re just going to keep doing what we’re asked of and do it to the best of our ability.”
It’s early, but Kmet’s eight receptions rank 29th among tight ends in the NFL through four games. His 59 yards ranks 39th. Graham has one catch for 11 yards in 65 snaps this season.
The victory over the Lions gave the Bears at least a semblance of an offensive identity with Justin Fields at quarterback. Now they need to build on that against better defenses than the Lions, who rank 21st in yards, 31st in yards per play and 29th in scoring.
“Obviously, Justin’s a threat with being able to get out of the pocket and run the ball is special,” Kmet said, “and I think if we’re able to solidify a run game, Justin’s ability to stretch the field also with his arm — those are two things that kind of go hand-in-hand and create a pretty dynamic passing attack.”