ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Blake Bell isn't old enough to remember when his uncle Mike patrolled the defensive line at Arrowhead Stadium for 13 seasons, but he does remember having his picture taken with a Chiefs Hall of Famer while growing up in Wichita, Kansas.
“We used to come to the games all the time since I've been really young,” said Bell, who signed with the Chiefs as a free agent in the offseason and joined the battle to backup starter Travis Kelce. “I remember having a picture with Tony Gonzalez back when I was young. Obviously my uncle playing here for so long and kind of following him growing up, it's great to be here and I'm pumped to be a part of it.”
Bell is the most experienced of five tight ends in camp hoping to fill the void vacated by Demetrius Harris as the club's No. 2 tight end. He's entering his fifth NFL season after stints with San Francisco, Minnesota and Jacksonville. He's caught 30 passes for 357 yards in 50 career games with 12 starts.
Bell knows that if he's going to make the squad, he needs to be able to contribute in multiple roles.
“I'm here to work, whatever I can do to help the team, whatever that is,” Bell said. “Special teams, whatever is is the coaches need me to do. I'm a good teammate and like I said, I'm just going to come to work each and every day and get better and whatever I can do to help the Chiefs win.”
Bell is part of a popular trend among the Chiefs tight end end group. He started his college career as a quarterback at Oklahoma. John Lovett is working to make the transition to tight after a four-year career as quarterback at Princeton. Kelce and David Wells both played quarterback in high school, and Kelce played Wildcat quarterback on occasion at Cincinnati.
Bell sees advantages to playing tight end with experience as a quarterback.
“I think just being back there and just knowing coverages and kind of what the defense does and then knowing timing wise,” Bell explained, “knowing when they got to get the ball out, knowing and seeing what they see and how they do it. Obviously being out here more with Pat (Mahomes) and the quarterbacks and getting to know each and every one of them and how they like things done.”
Even though Bell finds himself in a tough fight for a roster spot, he's counts his fellow tight ends as friends, even if they love competing against each other.
“I feel like the guys, we got the whole group here and we’re all here ready to work,” Bell said. “It’s a good group because when we get in the meeting rooms and everything, everyone's learning from each other and trying to grasp the offense. We’re out here just trying to get better each and every day.”
Play of the Day
Tight end Travis Kelce took a short pass from Patrick Mahomes and found defensive back Herb Miller in his path. One shake and back move later, Kelce shimmied past Miller, and in one fell swoop erased any doubts about the condition of his surgically repaired ankle.
Miller deserves some props for taking one for the team during this portion of camp. Due to a lack of numbers on the defensive side, Miller actually lined up at linebacker during seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 team scrimmages.
Thursday's practice featured two seven-on seven periods and just a single 10-play 11-on-11 session. That allowed for more work on position drills and kickoff return special teams period.
Among the deep group of first-year receivers, Jamal Custis and Cody Thompson appeared to have moved to the front of line early in camp.
Cornerback D'Montre Wade, who spent all of last season on the club's practice squad, broke up a Mahomes pass intended by tight end Deon Yelder on the first play of the 11-on-11 period. Mahomes and backups Chad Henne and Kyle Shurmer then reeled off eight-straight completions. That included a well-placed ball from Mahomes through traffic to Kelce. Mahomes also sprinted right and, with all the time in the world to throw, found Bell for a big gain over the middle.
The Chiefs appeared to make it through a second-straight day with no new injuries.
The club made a transaction on Wednesday, placing rookie linebacker Darius Harris on the non-football injury/active list. That means Harris can't practice for now, but he can return to the team as soon as he receivers medical clearance. He does count toward the 90-player roster limit.
Harris did not practice on Thursday, nor did rookie defensive end Tim Ward who is on the non-football injury/reserved list. He does not count toward the roster limit.
6: Tight ends on the roster, all of whom participated in Thursday's practice. The Chiefs released Neal Sterling on Wednesday afternoon, leaving the active roster at 89 players.
Bell and Yelder lead a quintet of tight ends vying for backup positions behind Kelce. David Wells, John Lovett and Nick Keizer are also involved in what expects to be one of the more competitive position battles in camp.
The Chiefs currently list former Valdosta State tight end Jody Fortson with tight ends, but the 6-6, 230-pound rookie has worked exclusively with receivers signing with the Chiefs. Lovett, who projects as an H-back who can play multiple roles, worked out as a fullback on Thursday.
“You know them jug machines we be on after practice? That’s a real-life jug machine, that's Patrick Mahomes.”
– Rookie running back Darwin Thompson on how hard Mahomes throws the football
The rookies gather for one more tuneup practice starting at 8:40 a.m. The practice is not open to the public. Veterans who report to camp early typically don't attend this short wrap-up session, so don't expect to see updates on Mahomes or Kelce Friday.
The Chiefs and Missouri Western officials will join together for an 11:30 a.m. press conference officially opening training camp. The focus then moves to the dorms, where the 48 players who haven't reported to camp yet are due to check in by 1 p.m. All eyes will be scanning for defensive end Chris Jones to see if he's ready to end his holdout.