In their first season together last year, Bears tight ends Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet developed a special bond that was evident on and off the field.
One of the best players at his position in NFL history, Graham continued to excel in his 11th pro season while simultaneously mentoring Kmet, the Bears' top pick in last year's draft.
"[It's] just fun to play with the kid," Graham said. "He's so fiery, so focused. I just enjoy being out there on the field and celebrating every win we have, if that's in the run game, if that's in the pass game. We just have a good time out there."
Graham, 34, led the Bears last season with eight touchdown receptions, catching 50 passes for 456 yards. The eight TDs were three more than he compiled the two previous years with the Packers and his most in a single season since he had 10 with the Seahawks in 2017.
Kmet, 22, took advantage of expanded playing time late in the season, catching 20 passes for 149 yards and one touchdown in the final five games after recording eight receptions for 94 yards and one TD in the first 11 contests.
With no offseason practices or preseason games in 2020 due to COVID-19, Kmet was eased into action. The 6-6, 262-pounder played fewer than 50 percent of the offense's snaps in each of the first nine games before lining up for 70, 79, 78, 85, 100, 90 and 89 percent of the plays in the last seven contests.
"Probably my biggest joy last year was to see his growth," Graham said, "and to be a part of that and to share those moments with him and to celebrate him and to celebrate us. I just love playing with him on the field, so hopefully we'll get a bunch more opportunities this year and have a bunch more special moments."
“He’s just a special kid. For him, there’s truly no ceiling. He can be as good as he wants to be.” Bears veteran Jimmy Graham on fellow tight end Cole Kmet
Graham sees limitless potential in Kmet, a Chicago area product who was selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2020 draft at No. 43 overall out of Notre Dame.
"He's just a pro, the way he handles himself and the way he works," Graham said. "He's in there all the time, getting bigger, getting stronger, completely focused. He never rests on his laurels. He's going to give 100 percent effort all the time on everything he does. He's just a special kid.
"For him, there's truly no ceiling. He can be as good as he wants to be. I'm excited to be a part of that, to help him get there and to win some games with him. He has a bright future and it's been special to be able to help him do that."
The rapport that Graham and Kmet have developed is evident to Bears coach Matt Nagy.
"I think down the road, 10 years from now, Cole Kmet's going to look back and say one of the best things that happened to him was having Jimmy Graham as his mentor," Nagy said. "It's neat because Cole has the openness and the willingness and the ability to want to learn. He's a sponge."
"We all are watching Cole grow right in front of our eyes. His confidence is getting higher and higher by the day. [He's] watching a lot of tape of tight ends and ways to beat a defense, and I think for all of us, it's who we wanted and who we saw when we drafted him last year, and how lucky we all are for that tight end room."
Take a look at the 14 veteran free agents the Bears have signed in 2021 hitting the practice fields during the team's full-squad minicamp at Halas Hall.