Emma: Bears need tight end Cole Kmet to take the next step in 2022


(670 The Score) To his credit, Bears tight end Cole Kmet has never complained or made excuses over two challenging years in the NFL.

Kmet broke into the league as a rookie in 2020, when he didn't have the benefit of an offseason program due to the pandemic. He lost out on strength and conditioning work at Halas Hall, rookie minicamp, OTAs and veteran minicamp. In 2021, Kmet had an increased role but was also misused by former coach Matt Nagy in the Bears’ struggling offense.

Kmet has played with four quarterbacks over two seasons and struggled with the lack of consistency around him amid the Bears’ collective poor performances. One couldn't blame Kmet for feeling frustrated with how this has all played out thus far.

Now, Kmet has a new chance to prove himself in new circumstances. The Bears have a clear-cut starting quarterback in Justin Fields, a coaching staff that has proclaimed it's committed to Kmet's development and an offense that should better prioritize his role. This season should go a long way toward revealing whether the 23-year-old Kmet can be a true standout tight end.

Kmet made a jump in 2021, recording 60 receptions after having just 28 as a rookie. That mark tied him with the Steelers' Pat Freiermuth for 11th among NFL tight ends. But Kmet was also shut out from the end zone, a reminder of the Bears’ red-zone struggles under Nagy’s watch.

The Bears will no longer lean on a tight end tandem like they did for the last two seasons with veteran Jimmy Graham serving as the primary U target. Now, it'll be Kmet getting the bulk of opportunities for the Bears at tight end.

Kmet has committed himself to growth this offseason, traveling down to Georgia before the offseason program began to work alongside Fields and receiver Darnell Mooney. He has put in the time with Fields, the first solidified starting quarterback the Bears have had in Kmet's short NFL career.

For a second straight June, Kmet went to Nashville to attend the Tight End University camp hosted by Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Greg Olsen. That’s the company Kmet hopes to keep as he progresses in the NFL.

Kelce has 397 catches and 35 touchdowns over the past four seasons, while Kittle would compare similarly if not for injuries. Olsen was a three-time Pro Bowl tight end who had 60 touchdowns over 14 NFL seasons.

The bar has been set high by the top tight ends in the NFL. Kmet has a standard to strive for as he enters his third year with hopes of a bona fide breakthrough.

This 2022 season should prove what the Bears have in Kmet and whether he can continue to ascend.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

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