KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s difficult, if not impossible, to play football at the highest level without loving the game, but even for a football player, few love the sport more than Chiefs center Mitch Morse.
That’s what made his 2017 season so frustrating, with a foot injury robbing him of his power and strength. But that frustration combined with has passion for the game and his teammate put Morse on a mission with the Chiefs heading to training camp this week.
“I was not going to let myself go back out there and be a detriment to this team again,” Morse said. “And that’s what I kind of felt like last year, it was tough.”
Morse injured his foot during the team’s Week 2 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Morse took a lick from Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox, and immediately knew something went wrong.
“I don’t know if you have seen Fletcher Cox but he is a giant human,” Morse said of the 6-foot-4, 310-pound three-time All-Pro. “I took a bull rush and something – I thought it was my ankle at first – and then I went out on a screen and then I just felt it pop and kind of go.”
Morse missed five games, returning for Week 8’s 29-19 win at home over the Denver Broncos. But the Chiefs proceeded to lose their next four games with the offense sputtering. Morse felt responsible.
“The truth of the matter was I felt like I wasn’t contributing for the guys.” Morse said after the team’s minicamp practice Tuesday. “I wasn’t putting my best self out there and the guys were picking up my slack when I was out there. That’s tough. You want to always positively influence what’s going on out there.”
The Chiefs finally shut Morse down after the Week 13 loss to the New York Jets. He underwent surgery on his balky foot, revealing much more damage than anticipated.
“When we went in there it was completely blown out,” Morse said.
Surgeons rebuilt his foot with screws holding everything in place. Morse had one screw removed in May — another remains in his foot, and may stay there for his lifetime.
“Now it feels great, we’re progressing,” Morse said. “There’s still a little bit to go but we’re in a great place where I can practice comfortably.”
Missing nine games in total last season and sitting out offseason workouts leaves Morse with the need to get his football movement back.
“You can watch as much film as you want but you’ve got to correlate that to the field and see what you see,” Morse. “There’s looking at it on screen and there’s looking at it on the field.”
Yet the injury may hold a silver lining. He spent much time of the sidelines with offensive line coach Andy Heck, watching his teammates in action and seeing his own role in the offense in a new way.
“Honestly some of the biggest stuff I could focus on was off the field in regards to functional movement and really getting in the playbook, understanding it,” Morse said. “Because I was with coach Heck the whole time on the sidelines kind of seeing it from a different perspective. It helped a ton.”
The minicamp preceding the officially opening of training camp on Thursday provides players such as Morse an opportunity to their feet wet before the intensity picks up. Head coach Andy Reid likes what he saw from Morse on the first day in St. Joseph.
“Mitch is a good football player so it’s good to have him back out there,” Reid said. “Again being able to knock the rust off I think is important for him and for us in the long run here so look forward to getting him in there.”
Morse’s return to the field this week is almost entirely fueled by trust — trust not only in the team’s medical staff but also his own body and love for the game.
“You know what you need to do to get your body right out there,” Morse said. “The doctors have cleared you, it’s time to go play. I’m excited to go back out there, compete. This foot is still progressing but we’re cleared to play football and that’s really fun.”