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Bears confident in revamped tight end position


If the Bears tight ends who reported to training camp last summer had participated in their own version of the reality TV show "Survivor," Jesper Horsted would have been declared the winner.

Of the six tight ends currently on the Bears' active roster, Horsted is the only one who was with the team a year ago in Bourbonnais. After a season in which their tight ends struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness, the Bears completely revamped the position.

General manager Ryan Pace signed veterans Jimmy Graham and Demetrius Harris in free agency and spent the Bears' top draft pick on Cole Kmet, selecting the Notre Dame product in the second round at No. 43.

Pace cleared room at the top of the depth chart for the new trio this offseason by releasing Trey Burton and Ben Braunecker and trading Adam Shaheen to the Dolphins in exchange for a 2021 seventh-round pick that could become a sixth-rounder. All three players finished last season on injured reserve.

Last year Bears tight ends combined to produce just 46 receptions for 416 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time since 1970 the team did not have a tight end compile at least 100 yards in a season.

"It's an important position," said coach Matt Nagy. "We know that, we understand that. So that's our job, is at the end of the season you evaluate where you're at. We did that, we made some moves, we like where we're at right now."

Graham has appeared in 153 NFL games with 111 starts over 10 seasons with the Saints (2010-14), Seahawks (2015-17) and Packers (2018-19), catching 649 passes for 7,883 yards and 74 touchdowns. Since the 6-7, 265-pounder entered the league, his games played and receiving yards are the most among NFL tight ends, while his receptions and touchdown catches both rank second.

Harris has appeared in 86 NFL games with 39 starts over six seasons with the Chiefs (2014-18) and Browns (2019), catching 72 passes for 754 yards and nine touchdowns. The 6-7, 230-pounder spent his first four years in Kansas City working with Nagy, who served as Chiefs quarterbacks coach from 2013-15 and offensive coordinator in 2016-17.

Kmet was a three-year contributor at Notre Dame. The 6-6, 262-pounder emerged as a playmaker last season when he established career highs in all receiving categories with 43 receptions, 515 yards and six touchdowns despite missing the first three games with a broken collarbone. An avid Bears fan who grew up in Lake Barrington, Kmet starred in football and baseball at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights.

"There's going to be great competition for them to get in there and do what they can do," Nagy said. "Having tight ends—whether it's in the run game or the pass game—in all of our opinions is very, very important and so we wanted to try to get better and improve in that area as well as a bunch of other areas.

"That was a start and we're excited. I know I'm excited. The rest of our coaches on staff are excited to see how it goes when the pads come on. We've got a great group of guys, I mean Jimmy coming in here with the experience that he has; I told you he's got a little chip on his shoulder right now, which I like. Demetrius Harris and I have a history from Kansas City, so we have a plan with him. We drafted Cole Kmet, and then we have a nice group of other guys that we're excited to see really come in and compete."

Among those other guys is Horsted, who returns after catching eight passes for 87 yards and one touchdown in eight games last season; J.P. Holtz, who had seven receptions for 91 yards in 14 games with the Bears last year after being claimed off waivers from Washington Sept. 11; and undrafted free agent Darion Clark.

Also expected to be in the mix is Eric Saubert, who was moved from the active roster to the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. The 6-5, 253-pounder was signed by the Bears off the Raiders' practice squad last Nov. 30 and appeared in the final two games last season, catching two passes for 21 yards.