Camp Notebook: Chiefs TE Jody Fortson “Ready to Go” in Return from Achilles Injury

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Most of the attention at the Chiefs’ three-day minicamp this weekend focuses on the rookies and even superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. But it’s hard to miss when the ball goes toward tight end Jody Fortson.

Fortson’s 2021 campaign ended just as it was taking flight. Through the first six games of the season, he hauled in five catches for 47 yards and two scores in just 54 offensive snaps. Then the disaster struck.

In the Week 6 win over Washington, he went to the ground with a torn Achilles tendon in his left heel. It was only the latest turn on a rollercoaster that twisted Fortson through community college and Division II Valdosta State before landing a tryout with the Chiefs in 2019. He parlayed that invitation into an NFL career now entering its fourth season.

The latest injury might have cracked the optimism of some players, but not Fortson.

“First of all I just kept my faith high,” Fortson said after Sunday’s minicamp practice. “I’ve got a strong support system, especially with my family and my team around me. I just attacked every day as if I was going to play on Sunday.”

Now just more than nine months out from surgery, he’s back on the field with no restrictions preparing for the upcoming campaign. He credits many of those around him for his quick return to action, starting with his mom, family and friends along with head coach Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and his teammates.

“I was in the rehab room, just working, continuing to work as if I was going to suit up that Sunday,” Fortson said. “They never really allowed me to get down on myself so I was never actually down.”

He saved his biggest praise and gratefulness for Tiffany Morton, the club’s assistant athletic trainer who oversaw his rehabilitation after surgery on his torn Achilles.

“I owe a lot to God, but I owe a lot to her because she really was hands-on and didn’t let me give up,” Fortson said. “There were some days I was like, “Tiff, I don’t want to do this.’ But she stayed on me and made sure I fought through it. So shout out to Tiff.”

Now age 26, Fortson presents a demeanor with more focused determination than in seasons past. He’s had to work fast to get where his is now, but patience is Fortson’s biggest goal for 2022.

“Not rushing my routes so quickly, allowing everything to just seeing where I fit into the puzzle, where I fit in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “Not trying to do too much, trying to do my job to the best of my ability.”

Fortson has passed several key milestones marking his return from the injury. After organized team practice activities (OTAs) this spring, Fortson went back home to Georgia, working with Stephon Brown at Top Shelf Performance.

“I got a lot of reps during OTAs but once it ended and I was able to go home with my trainers up at Top Shelf and Steph and work on my breaks and whatnot, I felt like I was ready to go at that point,” Fortson said.

The next test will come starting Aug. 1 when the team puts on the pads for the first time in training camp. Eyes will be on Fortson when he takes that first hit to see how he pops back to his feet for the next play. He says he’s ready for that.

“I’m not worried about no hits. None of that,” Fortson said. He adds that he has the same attitude and mentality that he held entering his first camp in 2019.

It’s just a dog-eat-dog environment,” Fortson said. “That’s how I see it. What kind of dog are you going to be?”

Notes & observations

Cloudy skies and unseasonably cool temperatures greeted the Chiefs on Sunday. One day after the thermometer reached nearly 90 degrees, a cold front moved into St. Joseph, maintaining a temperature around 79 degrees from the beginning to the end of the 86-minute practice.

The workout was a bit brisker than Saturday with the rookie class again getting a refresher on what to expect when camp begins in earnest on Monday. After conditioning, individual drills, group work and a brief installation period, the team conducted two 7-on-7 sessions along with more individual work and a special teams workout focusing on kickoffs.

During the 7-on-7 period, wide receiver Cornell Powell delivered one of his best training camp appearances of the past two seasons. Powell seemingly hauled in every pass heading his way, even making a few highlight-reel grabs. During the first session, Powell made a leaping grab on a deep ball from Patrick Mahomes down the left sideline, maintaining possession of the ball as he hit the ground. Three plays later he made a virtual identical catch, this time on a deep throw down the right sideline from Chad Henne. He topped himself moments later when he made a contested grab with rookie defensive back Nazeeh Johnson in coverage, losing his helmet as he went to the ground but holding on to the ball.

Mahomes delivered his best throw of the practice during the second 7-on-7 period, hitting tight end Jody Fortson on a corner route to the right side of the end zone.

A couple of defensive rookies also made notable plays on Sunday. The only incompletion on the day for Mahomes came when cornerback Joshua Williams fought through wide receiver Skyy Moore to break up the pass. Linebacker Leo Chenal finished the second 7-on-7 period by tipping a Dustin Crum pass intended for the end zone and securing the interception on the second effort.

Chiefs defensive coaches are excited at Chenal’s potential as a downhill player at the line of scrimmage but it’s in pass coverage where he can most improve as an all-around player.

“Those plays are going to come if you’re assignment sound,” Chenal said. “It’s just a credit to the defense and us learning what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Injury report

The club reported no new injuries on Sunday but two rookies did return back to the field. Linebacker Leo Chenal was a full participant after exiting Saturday’s practice early due to the heat. Defensive lineman Kehinde Oginni Hassan also returned after sitting out Saturday as a precautionary measure.

Cornerback Rashad Fenton (shoulder), right tackle Lucas Niang (knee) and offensive tackle Prince Tega Wanogho (leg) remain on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list but did attend practice. Rookie receiver Justyn Ross (foot) also remains on the PUP list but was not spotted on the field.

What’s next?

The rookies are back for a quick workout Monday morning starting at 9:15 a.m. The final practice of the three-day minicamp is not open to the public. Rain is also in the forecast, which could shorten the workout further or move activities indoors. Veterans typically get an off day from the final minicamp practice.

The Chiefs and Missouri Western State University officials will host a press conference officially opening training camp at 11:30 a.m. Monday. Team president Mark Donovan will be joined by university president Elizabeth Kennedy and Mosaic Life Care CEO Mike Poore.

Veterans are due to report to camp by 10 p.m. Monday but there won’t be the traditional pageantry of players marching into the dorms of past years. The team is scheduled to conduct virtual press conferences with linebacker Nick Bolton, center Creed Humphrey and wide receiver Mecole Hardman.

After an acclimation day on Tuesday, camp kicks into full gear on Wednesday, July 27 with a 9:15 a.m. practice open to the club’s season ticket holders. Virtual tickets must be purchased on the team’s website. Admission to most practices is free however the university collects a $5 parking fee per vehicle.