A year of NFL experience for Cole Kmet — plus a more normal offseason program — has the Chicago Bears tight end feeling stronger, faster and more confident

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A year ago, tight end Cole Kmet was stuck in a virtual orientation to the Chicago Bears, unable to practice on the field with his new coaches and teammates until training camp because of COVID-19.

This offseason is a little more normal, and with a year of NFL experience, the 2020 second-round draft pick is feeling better about his place in the Bears offense during the second week of organized team activities at Halas Hall.

“After being a year in the offense and understanding what Coach (Matt) Nagy and Coach (Bill) Lazor are doing with this offense, I’m a lot more comfortable with it,” Kmet said on a video call with reporters Wednesday. “I’m stronger. I feel like I’m quicker and faster right now. Just a lot of confidence going in with the offense and in myself.”

Kmet built that confidence over a promising stretch at the end of the 2020 season after a slow buildup in his first eight games.

His offensive snaps more than doubled by the end of the year — he played at least 85% of the snaps in each of the final four regular-season games — and he also became a bigger threat in the passing game. Over the final five games, he had 20 of his 28 catches for the season, 149 of his 243 receiving yards and one of his two touchdowns. He added three catches for 16 yards in the playoff game.

Kmet said over the course of the year, he learned how to take care of his body for a full NFL season, how to approach film study and how to better recognize defensive coverages and fronts.

His growth is a reason Nagy and tight ends coach Clancy Barone are looking for more in Year 2, and last month Barone put post-snap adjustments on his wish list for Kmet’s improvements during the offseason program.

“The more reps he got, the better he got with just playing football,” Barone said, “a lot of it with his run blocking, his pass protection, his route running, knowing how to run certain routes versus man and versus zone and things like that. The big thing for him moving forward is going to be taking the next step in that progression, and a lot of it is understanding pre-snap versus post-snap, how to adjust things on the run.

“When the picture changes while you’re moving, that’s something that all young players seem to struggle with at all positions, and Cole is no different. That is going to be a big goal for us moving forward this spring is to get him to being more at ease with adjusting to plays in the game after the ball is snapped.”

Kmet said he took a couple of weeks off after the season before taking online classes to finish his degree at Notre Dame and hitting the weight room. He has been working at Halas Hall since mid-March, and he said on-field work with new quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Justin Fields over the last few weeks has been especially beneficial.

“What I’ve noticed — not having (OTAs) last year and having them this year — is being able to get timing and cohesion with Andy and the quarterbacks,” Kmet said. “Things as simple as cadence and how they articulate in the huddle and what they’re seeing and the timing of the throws and the routes are huge.

“Those are all things that have been really beneficial. I’ve already seen from Day 1 to now as being a gradual increase and has been really good for me and I’m sure the other receivers as well.”

Nagy often preached patience for Kmet early in 2020 given the learning curve for rookie tight ends, especially during such an odd year. But knowing Kmet’s drive to be better, Nagy hopes his contributions can balloon this year.

“Cole did such a great job of digesting the offense, his role will continue to expand,” Nagy said. “He’s very similar to Darnell (Mooney) — he wants more. He wants to do everything he can. He’s so fun to coach.

“We’re all going to see more of him, and that’s important because he’s very talented and he can do a lot of things. He creates matchups in the pass game and he can hold an edge and dent a defense in the run game, so that’s really exciting for us to be able to use him more.”

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