LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) – In their first two games, the Bears have largely failed to utilize what they believe is a strength -- their tight ends.
Cole Kmet, the second-year player who seemed poised for a breakout in 2021, has six catches for 42 yards on just eight targets. Jimmy Graham, a future Hall of Fame candidate, has only one catch on a pair of targets. No other tight end on the roster has factored into the passing game at all.
Bears coach Matt Nagy is taking ownership of that, saying he needs to get the tight ends incorporated in his offense.
“They need to be more involved,” Nagy said. “I'm well aware of that. That's my fault for that.”
The Bears’ lack of commitment to their tight ends is at odds with their roster construction in recent years. Kmet is the priority at tight end given that he was a second-round pick in 2020 and is viewed as a long-term playmaker. He has played 73.1% of the Bears’ offensive snaps, in part because of his value as a blocker in the Y tight end position.
As for the 34-year-old Graham, the Bears chose to retain him for a second season in 2021 – despite what would've been a minimal penalty to release him in the offseason – amid a salary cap crunch that ended up costing them top cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Graham, who restructured his contract in early September, comes with a $5.3-million cap hit this season. He has played 26.9% of the Bears’ snaps on offense after leading Chicago with eight touchdowns in 2020.
“I'm always ready and always willing, so we'll see,” Graham said.
When Nagy’s offense was at its best back in 2018, the Bears made a point to incorporate the tight end into their scheme. Trey Burton was the Bears’ fourth-leading receiver with 54 receptions for 569 yards and six touchdowns that season. Chicago hasn’t had a tight end top that reception total in the past two years, with Graham coming the closest in making 50 catches in 2020.
The Bears have now turned to rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who will make his first career NFL start Sunday in Cleveland with veteran Andy Dalton sidelined by a knee injury. Nagy recognizes the difference a tight end can make in creating mismatches in coverage for Fields to find.
The Bears could learn from the example of Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who set rookie records for touchdowns and completions in 2020. Tight end Hunter Henry was the Chargers' second-leading receiver with 60 catches in 2020 and hauled in four touchdowns.
In Kmet and Graham, the Bears have a pair of targets eager to be utilized who could help make Fields' acclimation to the NFL a smoother process.
“We’re just ready to go,” Kmet said. “Obviously we’re not in control of the play calls or what’s going on out there, how the defense ends up presenting to us. But we’re ready to go. Whenever our number is called, we’re ready to go.”
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.