GRA­HAM IS COLE MODEL

Rookie tight end Kmet has im­pressed in early prac­tices

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

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.”

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