June 14, 2021

Biggest NFL surprise? Cole Kmet says it’s a long season

Lake Barrington native finished strong in his rookie season with the Bears

Asked a month ago what he wanted to see from rookie tight end Cole Kmet over the final four games of the regular season, Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor noted the details of running routes.

“Just all those little details, some of it is walking-through on the field, some of it is just having to experience it [in a game],” Lazor said. “A guy like Cole who really loves football and who is into it, he’ll spend time watching other tight ends around the league who are successful and see some of the nuances.”

Whether or not Lazor believes Kmet did that, Bears fans will have to wait and see. They might not hear from Lazor for a while as the Bears embark on the offseason.

[Hub Arkush: Time has come for George McCaskey to decide who leads the Bears next season]

Kmet, though, understands the importance of those details. All 2020 NFL rookies started off at a disadvantage to some of their predecessors because the league didn’t have a traditional offseason. There were no OTAs, no rookie mini-camp, no preseason games.

“When you get out of meetings, I can recite a play, but showing when you actually have to do it on the field, it’s a little bit different,” Kmet said Monday. “I think getting those reps on the field, you miss those, those are important.”

The Bears spent Monday cleaning out their lockers at Halas Hall. Head coach Matt Nagy addressed his team one last time for the 2020 season. As of late Tuesday afternoon, there was still no word from Halas Hall if changes might be made in the front office or among the coaching staff. The Bears have yet to schedule their customary post-season news conference.

Kmet, a 21-year-old Lake Barrington native, finished his rookie season with 28 receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns. He caught an additional three passes in Sunday’s Wild Card playoff game. He learned behind veteran tight end Jimmy Graham and saw his role increased as the season went on.

Kmet caught multiple passes in each of the final six games, including the playoff game. He caught a season-high seven passes in Week 17 against Green Bay, although his first career fumble proved costly.

A week later, it was a baffling unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that cost Kmet. Kmet said he was told the penalty was for throwing the ball at a Saints player. Upon further review, though, he threw the ball to a different referee standing nearby.

Kmet joked that his mom was upset about the call.

“She knows her son would never do anything like that,” Kmet said. “So she was a little fired up at the game.”

[Read more: Allen Robinson: Bears had a year to get a contract extension done]

All that aside, Kmet’s rookie season has been a success. By the end of the season, he was playing upwards of 85% to 90% of the Bears’ offensive snaps. Against Minnesota on Dec. 20, he played 100% of offensive snaps.

Kmet will be in the Bears’ future plans and could take on an even bigger role in the passing game next season. Obviously, there is a lot to sort out at the quarterback position, which will affect just about every aspect of the offense.

Kmet said the most jarring thing about life in the NFL was how long the season is. A full 16-game season plus a playoff game is quite a slate for someone who never played in more than 13 games in any one season at Notre Dame.

The rookie can appreciate the frustration Bears fans are feeling at the end of the year, having been a Bears fan himself growing up.

“I know how people are around here and I know what the expectation is, and you wouldn’t want it any other way,” Kmet said. “You don’t want to be at a place where the expectations are low.”

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.