GRAHAM IS COLE MODEL
Rookie tight end Kmet has impressed in early practices
Less than a month after “Baby Gronk” left a trail of unfulfilled expectations of greatness at Halas Hall, Jimmy Graham’s endorsement of Bears rookie tight end Cole Kmet probably should be taken with a spoonful of caution.
But it’s training camp. It’s Jimmy Graham. It’s the tight-end-desperate, offensively challenged Bears. It’s just too good to resist.
“His football intelligence and ability to soak in these plays and understand his assignments is extremely impressive for a young kid,” Graham said. “Also, he’s every bit of 260 — he reminds me of a young me. He’s got big legs and the amount of potential that the kid has, the amount of talent he has is truly unbelievable.”
“He reminds me of a young me” is a potentially daunting compliment that sets the bar even higher for Kmet, a second-round pick (43rd overall). A younger Graham was one of the most prolific tight ends in the NFL. After a warmup rookie season in 2010, Graham averaged 89 receptions, 1,099 yards and 11.5 touchdowns from 2011 to 2014.
Similar expectations set up Adam Shaheen for a fall as a Rob Gronkowski-like prospect. The 2017 second-round pick (45th overall) never lived up to even tamped-down expectations in three seasons that were hampered in part by injuries.
But Shaheen was a project coming out of tiny Ashland University who was trying to make a huge jump to the NFL. And he rarely, if ever, showed the athletic ability that made him such a touted prospect at the Division II level. Kmet played at the highest level at Notre Dame. And already he at least looks as advertised physically.
Kmet still needs to get acclimated to the NFL game. But he doesn’t look out of place. On the contrary, the confident rookie looks like he’s in a new world he can figure out, if not conquer in the right situation.
“This is a lot faster than college, a lot more physical,” Kmet said when asked about the challenge of adjusting to the NFL. “Just trying to get into that habit in terms of going against these types of guys. Obviously, when you’re going against the top defense in the league every day in practice, you’ll get used to that pretty quickly. [I’m] just trying to get as many reps as I can until we kick off against Detroit [on Sept. 13 at Ford Field].”
Speaking of the Bears’ defense, the St. Viator product relished his “Welcome to the NFL” moment when he went from Bears fan to Bears player.
“For me, it was the first day in pads, and I had to block and look up, and I’m going against [Khalil Mack] — so that’s a little wake-up call for me,” Kmet said. “That was my thing. ‘Wow, that was pretty cool. I just had to go block Khalil Mack.’ Going against our defense, whether it’s Eddie Jackson, Danny Trevathan, those type of guys. Going against all our linebackers, D-linemen and our safeties and corners — it’s pretty cool.”
Kmet also has benefitted from having Graham as a teammate.
“He’s been a great influence for me since I’ve gotten here, just showing me how to be a professional,” Kmet said. “Just all the extra things you have to do in order to be a great professional. He’s been really helpful throughout this whole process.”
That in itself is yet another kick for Kmet, who said he received a Jimmy Graham Saints jersey when he was younger.
“I was telling him that the other day — we were laughing about it,” Kmet said. “I’ve known who he was since I was 12. To see him now and for him to be teaching me some things is pretty cool for me. As a fan of football, as a player of the game, it’s been pretty special for me to learn from a guy like that.”