BE­LIEV­ING IN WHAT YOU DON’T SEE

Bears fi­nally get­ting first look at Kmet, whose im­pact they’re de­pend­ing on

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - MARK POTASH mpotash@sun­times.com | @MarkPo­tash

Bears rookie tight end Cole Kmet is a clas­sic can­di­date for the train­ing camp hype ma­chine.

He’s the Bears’ high­est-drafted rookie this year. He’s a Chicagoan. He comes from Notre Dame. He has all the qual­i­ties of a dif­fer­ence­mak­ing player. He plays a po­si­tion of dire need. And, per­haps most of all, he has yet to fail.

But all the Bears really know about Kmet at this point is that he’s the same player they drafted 43rd over­all in April. Like all rook­ies, Kmet has been stunted in his de­vel­op­ment by the lim­i­ta­tions of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

So, in early Au­gust, he still hasn’t par­tic­i­pated in a full-fledged NFL train­ing camp practice. He has par­tic­i­pated in walk-throughs and even some full-speed reps — though not yet against a de­fense. But at least coaches have fi­nally seen him on the field. Un­til then, all they’d ob­served about the 6-6, 262-pound Kmet was that he learns well.

“The first thing that strikes you — with Zoom meet­ings — is that he’s a very quick study,” tight ends coach Clancy Barone said. “The guy’s very bright, which we also knew from the [scout­ing] com­bine and all the [draft] re­search we did. But when you ac­tu­ally get to see him . . . he cer­tainly looks the part. He’s as big as ad­ver­tised. He’s in tremen­dous con­di­tion — very lean. He’s a big, thick-bod­ied guy and ex­tremely ath­letic.”

It’s pre­sumed rook­ies might take a slower route to im­pact than nor­mal this sea­son be­cause they haven’t been able to learn on the field. And they won’t have the ben­e­fit of pre­sea­son games.

The Bears can live with that like­li­hood for much of their 2020 rookie class. Even if sec­ond-round pick Jay­lon John­son doesn’t win the corner­back job right away, the Bears’ loaded de­fense fig­ures to sur­vive with vet­eran Kevin Tol­liver un­til John­son is ready. The other rook­ies — all drafted in the fifth round or later, in­clud­ing out­side line­backer Tre­vis Gip­son and wide re­ceiver Dar­nell Mooney — are play­ers the Bears can wait for.

But Kmet is an ex­cep­tion. Play­ing a vi­tal po­si­tion in coach Matt Nagy’s of­fense, Kmet is be­ing counted on to at least be pro­duc­tive as a rookie. So far, the Bears re­main hope­ful.

“We have been able to eval­u­ate his move­ment skills. We’re very happy with him,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bill La­zor said. “We’re able to eval­u­ate him in meet­ings an­swer­ing ques­tions. So far, all in­di­ca­tions are that he’ll be able to put it to­gether when the de­fense is [on the field] and he’s got to go.”

That’s the huge next step — see­ing Kmet oper­ate against a de­fense at full speed.

“When the ball’s snapped and things start mov­ing, it’s an ad­just­ment pe­riod,” La­zor said. “Will he get it the first time? Will it be, ‘OK, I messed it up, I’ll get it the sec­ond time’? Or will it take three years to de­velop? None of us knows un­til we get there. My hope is pretty high right now [based on] what we’ve seen in meet­ings and [on the field].”

PAUL SAN­CYA/AP

The Bears have only just re­cently been able to work in per­son with rookie tight end Cole Kmet.

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