Tight end remains a trouble spot for Bears

  • Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Hercules Mata'afa readies at the line of scrimmage against Bears tight ends Cole Kmet (85) and Jimmy Graham (80) in a game Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Minneapolis.

    Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Hercules Mata'afa readies at the line of scrimmage against Bears tight ends Cole Kmet (85) and Jimmy Graham (80) in a game Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Minneapolis. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/20/2021 8:13 PM

For all the news the Bears have made this offseason, the one position that has been the most dormant and remained almost completely unchanged is tight end.

It's of note because last year Jimmy Graham's signing -- a two-year deal with the Bears -- rocked the NFL due in large part to the $16 million overall and $9 million guaranteed it included. It was followed by the Bears using their first pick in the draft on Cole Kmet because arguably, other than quarterback, no position has been more of a trouble spot for the Bears over the last few decades.

 

After generating the least production from the position of any team in the league in 2019 -- six different tight ends combined for 46 catches for 416 and 2 TDs -- Graham contributed 50 for 456 and 8 TDs on his own, and Kmet came on in the second half of the season to add 28 for 243 and 2 scores.

It was a nice step up with Graham showing a lot more left in the tank than most expected, and Kmet appeared to have a very high ceiling with a lot more to come. But it was still not anywhere near enough from the position as the only other contributor was Demetrius Harris with 7 scoreless catches for 45 yards.

With Kmet likely to be a true Y now and Graham freed up to work mostly, if not strictly, as a U or receiving specialist, it's reasonable to expect a lot more this year, but also more than a little surprising it was enough for the Bears to stand pat so far throughout this offseason.

J.P. Holtz will be back as the No. 3, where he contributed nothing in the passing game last season but is a quality blocker and special teams demon. But Harris is gone, Jesper Horsted remains a lottery ticket on the practice squad, and the only new addition is undrafted rookie free agent Scooter Harrington from Stanford.

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Asked at the end of last season how he felt about his contributions, Graham was upbeat.

"It's nice to be able to make those plays and make those moments," Graham said. "I'm excited to just be ... I'm blessed to have been a part of this and to have been a part of such a good story, especially after that tough stretch we had."

Graham also brought tremendous leadership to the locker room, more than most expected, but can he do it again while turning 35?

Tight ends coach Clancy Barone thinks Graham's value is as much about his presence as his personal production.

"That's the thing, if you look at his (Graham's) tape, who would guess 34?" Barone asked. "The best thing for Cole Kmet at this time of his career is Jimmy Graham. You have a fantastic mentor that can teach you all the ins and outs of the game and the proper ways to prepare and everything else.

"Every team in the league is looking for a tight end like that and there's not many guys like that in that 6-6, 6-7 with a 7-foot wingspan. There's not many guys like that and we have two of them."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As a born and raised Chicagoan and Bears fan, Kmet knows Bears fans are going to demand more of him.

"Yeah, no doubt," Kmet said. "I grew up a Chicago sports fan in general, and I know how people are around here. I know what the expectation is, and you wouldn't want it any other way.

"The expectations are high here, and that's what you want. The fans here want a Super Bowl, we want a Super Bowl. That's the expectation, and that's a good thing. That's what we're all striving for."

Ask any analyst or fan, the three most important things the 2021 Bears need to do and most or all will say:

1. Contend for a Super Bowl.

2. Improve the quarterback position.

3. Improve the offense.

The additions of Justin Fields, Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom are a great start, but without significantly more production from the tight ends, it almost certainly won't be enough.

Are Graham and Kmet enough to make that happen or is there still more work to do on the depth chart?

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