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LAKE FOREST — Cole Kmet did everything for the Chicago Bears offense last season.
The former Notre Dame tight end led the team in receiving yards (544) and touchdowns (7). He also played in every game and missed only 63 offensive snaps in 2022.
His seven touchdowns were tied for the third-most by a tight end with New Orleans’ Juwan Johnson. According to Pro Football Focus, Kmet had 457 run-blocking snaps in 2022, by far the most in his career. Despite the larger volume of blocking plays, he also posted a career-high run blocking grade at 67.6.
“It’s hard to find the guy that can do everything well these days, that the tight end position has to do so it doesn’t allow a defense to probably hone in as much as they would,” tight ends coach Jim Dray said. “The guy is a consummate professional who works his tail off so the stuff that he does that no one watches does show up, it’s starting to show up more.”
If the Bears’ offense will take the next step in 2023, Kmet is the key to helping the entire unit reach that ascension. Kmet was not only the team’s leading receiver but also one of the most consistent blockers.
Even though the offense needs to make major strides in the passing game in 2023 — and it should with Justin Fields entering Year 3 and adding a No. 1 wide receiver in DJ Moore — the rushing attack will still be a major focus of the offense.
The Bears finished last season with the most rushing yards (3,014). And to look more in-depth at the rushing numbers, PFF charts the stats based on the “Rushes By Direction.”
Khalil Herbert finished last season with 129 carries for 732 total yards and four rushing touchdowns. PFF charted Herbert with 31 attempts for 232 yards (with 167 of those yards coming after contact per attempt), seven first downs, two touchdowns and seven runs over 10 yards when running outside to the tight end’s left (LE). All those marks were the most for Herbert in those categories.
Dray understands he has a do-it-all type of tight end in Kmet.
“Yeah, just with the schemes that we run, it’s very important to be a point-of-attack blocker and either you have it or you don’t,” Dray said. “Somebody that craves violence in the run game and he has that. So we can kind of harness that like we did last year and this year for sure. He’s the kind of guy like I said before he is a complete tight end. He can run and catch, so he’s a guy that we can lean on in terms of the run game.”
Dray liked what he saw on the football field from the 24-year-old playmaker. Now that Kmet is in Year 4, Dray knows he can take even more responsibility for this Bears offense in 2023.
“Well, last year, you know, it’s a new offense, new staff,” Dray said. “Everyone’s learning from each other and there were some things that he did really well. And for this season, to just build on those things and like you said, he can be a leader for this offense. So hopefully he leads by the way he executes on the field.”
Kmet really started to hit his stride last season following the team’s 33-14 win over the Patriots on Monday Night Football. In those last 10 games, Kmet caught 38 passes for 396 yards and all seven of his touchdowns.
After the New York Jets game when Darnell Mooney was injured, Kmet led the team with 21 receptions for 208 yards and two touchdowns in five games (and one of those games was without Fields).
“I think it was just more the offense was growing, and that kind of helps the situation statistically speaking,” Kmet said. “So yeah, we had a good little stretch there in the middle of the season. Maybe we didn’t really end the season how we wanted to. But we’re working hard to amend that so we can get a fast start going this year.
A deeper understanding
Now in Year 2 of offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense, Kmet said he has a better familiarity with what he is supposed to do on certain plays.
The difference is in the details.
“So instead of seeing what route you’re running, you know what route and you know how to adjust off man versus two versus four,” Kmet said. “You know, those type of things.”
Along with feeling more comfortable in the scheme, Kmet already has seen through the first three weeks of OTAs how the addition of Moore will benefit the offense.
“For the tight end room, it’s big,” Kmet said. “You’ve got a guy that can threaten vertically and can do those things and open up zone and holes for us. So it’s real exciting, and along with the other receivers we’ve got, with Darnell, Chase, Dante, I think it will be a good group there and we’re looking forward to see how it goes.”
When it comes to an offseason list of things to improve, Kmet mentioned his footwork and just getting to know the playbook more so he can play faster. The addition of Robert Tonyan, who played for Getsy in Green Bay, should help Kmet understand the nuances of the offense.
Tonyan had the most productive season of his career in 2020, when Getsy was the Packers’ quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. Tonyan caught 52 passes for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns, which was tied for the most by a tight end that season with Travis Kelce.
If Kmet and Tonyan can both play well in 2023, that will only make the offense more dangerous and tough to defend.
“Well I think it’s kind of a multiple offense where we move the ball pretty good,” Dray said. “You throw the ball around alright. In this offense, Luke does like using tight ends as you can tell from Cole’s production last year. Bobby’s familiarity with the offense coming from the same spot and hoping to have a chance to get the same type of production or maybe a little bit more.”
After the final OTA practice on Wednesday, Kmet told NFL Network’s Stacey Dales that “the expectation should be high” for this Bears team and the fans should have high standards for the team as well.
For the Bears to potentially reach those expectations, Kmet will need to have a dominant season in 2023. If he can do that, the future success he envisioned for the Bears will become a lot more likely to happen.
“Yeah, I’d say so. I mean, we’ve got to go out and do it,” Kmet said. “But you look at the pieces that Ryan (Poles) has brought in and the guys that we have that are coming back, and I think it looks like a really good group. We’re excited about where it’s going and we’re optimistic and we’re working hard to get this thing going in the right direction in order to go win a Super Bowl.”
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