Chiefs’ tight ends ready to flex muscle as team strength

Aug 17, 2014; Charlotte, NC; Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) runs after catching a pass against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 17, 2014; Charlotte, NC; Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) runs after catching a pass against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs are primed to unleash a critical part of coach Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense noticeably absent in 2013.

And it shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with what Reid has done with the tight end position dating back to his time as a position coach with the Green Bay Packers.

“I think you can go back to coach Reid’s offense and history and try to track those numbers,” starting Chiefs tight end Anthony Fasano said Wednesday. “I think they’re pretty consistent and pretty strong.”

Strong, that is, until the 2013 regular season when the well-documented injury woes derailed the position, leading to 53 catches for 541 yards and five touchdowns as a collective group. That marked the lowest total for a Reid-coached team since the Philadelphia Eagles tight ends produced 49 catches for 522 yards and three touchdowns in 2007.

But Reid now has a healthy trio with Fasano, Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris, and their contributions will play a major role in the offensive scheme.

“Tough year last year,” Fasano said. “Some injuries, some guys stepped up, but we’re on to a new year now and I think we had a good camp, and we’re getting better day by day. I think the tight ends in this offense can really be a weapon, and can help us create some mismatches and help win games.”

Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson on Thursday echoed Fasano.

“The great thing about our situation last year is that we’ve had all three of these tight ends back to OTAs and really all through training camp with the emergence of Travis Kelce and that group,” Pederson said. “They’ve gelled, they became cohesive throughout camp and you saw some of the explosiveness from that group.”

The signs pointed to the tight end becoming a big part of the offense immediately upon the Chiefs hiring of Reid in January 2013. Reid has “an affinity for tight ends,” former three-time Pro Bowl Eagles tight Chad Lewis explained then.

Fasano and Kelce offered proof of that affection by combining for 18 catches for 263 yards and two touchdowns, both from Kelce, during preseason action. That production showed a glimpse what the offense sorely missed last year.

Kelce’s 11 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns led all Chiefs receivers and he displayed no side effects from last season’s microfracture knee surgery.

Needless to say, the second-year pro is ready for the regular season.

“I’m going to try and release the beast,” Kelce said Wednesday. “I’m going to let everything go out there.”

The Chiefs look forward to utilizing the trio of tight ends, and it starts Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

It wouldn’t surprise to see two-tight end sets early and often when considering the Chiefs start the season without wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who currently serves a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse.

Kelce’s speed alone will present a problem if the Titans cover him with a linebacker. And there’s always the 6-7, 245-pound Harris to consider in exploiting coverage matchups, especially inside the red zone.

“It’s something that we have to continue to build upon,” Pederson said. “I think tight ends are a great match in this league and we have to continue to find ways to get not only two, but all three of those guys on the field.”

Pederson’s vision is ultimately an extension of Reid’s philosophy surrounding the use of the tight end position.

And that’s just fine to the man responsible for distributing the ball in the passing game.

“It’s certainly no question the tight ends – I think – are a matchup for us,” quarterback Alex Smith said Wednesday. “I think we like that, I think we like getting them on the field and seeing how teams play us and the balance that we have with those guys on the field, run and pass.”