Chicago Bears hope for more catches from new crew of tight ends
The Bears haven't made many personnel changes on offense, but most of the new faces belong to the tight end spot.
There are nine tight ends on the roster, and three newcomers figure to get most of the snaps -- rookie Cole Kmet, and veteran free-agent additions Jimmy Graham and Demetrius Harris.
The other tight ends are Adam Shaheen, Jesper Horsted, Ben Braunecker, J.P. Holtz, Eric Saubert and Darion Clark. All except for Clark caught at least one pass as a Bear last season.
Most of them didn't catch much more than that. The 2019 tight end receiving stats don't require many columns. Trey Burton was a big disappointment, finishing with 14 catches, and has been waived. Shaheen caught 9 passes, Horsted 8, Holtz 7, Braunecker 6 and Saubert 2.
It has been widely speculated that Shaheen will be released before the season starts. The Bears reportedly could save $1.27 million by cutting him loose, but they could also try one more time to get some production out of their 2017 second-round pick.
New tight ends coach Clancy Barone had nice things to say about Shaheen during a conference call with reporters last week.
"Adam is a guy that I think has a very, very bright future. I've got plans for him to do things in our offense," Barone said.
"He was a guy I absolutely loved when he was in college. I thought he was a fantastic prospect. Everything about him, his height, his length, everything about the guy is what you want."
For now, though, Shaheen is an afterthought and Kmet has taken his place as the Bears' tight end of the future. After a big junior season at Notre Dame, the Bears drafted Kmet in the second round with the 43rd overall pick.
The former St. Viator High School star is a Bears legacy. His father, Frank, who played on Hersey's 1987 state championship team and then at Purdue, spent 1993 on the Bears' practice squad. His uncle is Jeff Zgonina, who played defensive tackle in the NFL for 17 seasons but never played for the Bears.
Barone was asked if he expects Kmet to jump right into the action this fall.
"That's going to be part of the fun of going through training camp," Barone said. "I want to be able to just throw him in there and watch him compete. I don't think he'll have any trouble when it comes to just competing. That's in his DNA.
"Obviously, he has to be patient with himself because there is going to be a learning curve. Also, I'll be patient with him. He's a guy that I hope we can plug in and watch him go."
Kmet will miss the usual rookie camps and off-season training due to the coronavirus, but Barone went through a similar experience during the lockout season of 2011. Barone was in Denver and the Broncos drafted two tight ends that year, Julius Thomas and Virgil Green. Those two combined for just 4 catches as rookies, so it's not exactly a hopeful comparison.
"One advantage this year is we have had a chance to go over the playbook with Cole," Barone said. "He's a quick study. The guy, I think, lives and breathes and eats football.
"He's very athletic. He's a big guy (6-6, 262). He has great length. He has good speed, 4.70 (in the 40) is no slouch for a big guy like that; he's got great body control. He goes up and he makes hard catches look routine."
Graham helped ruin the Bears' season in 2019. He scored the only touchdown when Green Bay beat the Bears 10-3 in the Thursday night season opener. The 10-year veteran gave the Bears a good sales pitch in the process. Graham was well-covered on the play, but as a former basketball player for the Miami Hurricanes, he boxed out his defender and pulled in the pass from Aaron Rodgers.
"He's a guy I'd love to have the chance to coach, to help him still progress at this stage of his career," Barone said. "I think Jimmy's a guy that can certainly help out the offense in many ways."
Graham, 33, had at least 85 catches for four straight seasons in New Orleans from 2011-14. He had 38 receptions for the Packers last fall.
Harris, meanwhile, has never had more than 18 catches in a season, but he does know coach Matt Nagy's offense from his days in Kansas City when Nagy was offensive coordinator.
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