ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The first day of training camp brought a welcome sight for the Chiefs offense as All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce returned to the field for the first time since January in his return from offseason ankle surgery.
“I'm 100,” Kelce said after his first practice in more than six months. “I'm 100 percent flying out there, having some fun. Didn't have any issues today.”
Head coach Andy Reid liked what he saw from his 29-year-old tight end.
“He did a nice job,” Reid said. “We're easing him back in. I thought he moved around well. I didn't see anything lingering from his surgery. Caught a few balls.”
Kelce said the bothersome left ankle troubled him for the last few seasons and slowly grew progressively worse. The issue certainly didn't hindered him on game days – Kelce hauled in 103 catches for 1,336 yards last season, which briefly set the mark for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end until George Kittle surpassed him less than an hour later. His 10 touchdowns also served as a career high.
But the lingering problem bothered him at other times during the week. He only appeared once on the team's injury report last season, even then as a full participant, but the ankle still left him sore during the week.
“It was just something that was nagging,” Kelce said. “Really Monday and Tuesday was where it really got me the most, and then sometimes here and there in practice I would roll my ankle just because of how loose the joint was.”
Despite the discomfort, Kelce still managed to earn iron-man status during the past five season. Since microfracture surgery on his right knee in 2014 limited him to a single game during his rookie season, Kelce played in 79 of 80 regular season contests. He sat out only the 2017 season finale along with most of the team's starters.
The procedure, performed by noted foot and and ankle specialist Robert Anderson, aimed to clean up a variety of damage in the ankle and tighten the joint to prevent rolling.
“The fact that what I had done was basically tightening up the ankle, making sure that it wasn't as wobbly,” Kelce said, “and what that does is it tightens up and stabilizes the joint so I'm not just hitting cartilage and damaging that aspect of the ankle.”
The surgery kept Kelce in a boot until mid-April and prevented him from running for about three months.
“That was pretty difficult,” he explained. “That was the hardest thing was to get through, that soreness, and I'm still getting through the soreness and the fatigue and all that stuff. Just building the muscles back to what they used to be now that the ankle is as stable as it needs to.”
A week before reporting to camp, Kelce vacationed with Patrick Mahomes and several of his fellow pass catchers in the Turks and Caicos Islands. He experienced the dividends of the procedure while running pass routes on the sandy beaches.
“There were times where my ankle got caught in awkward position just being on the beach running around,” Kelce said “I could tell you last year, two years ago, that thing would have just rolled out and I would have probably just been sitting watching guys catch routes on the beach instead of actually getting out there and doing it myself.”
Mahomes on Tuesday said it was fun having Kelce back, and he showed his enthusiasm immediately during Wednesday's workout. The quarterback ran up from behind Kelce and jumped on his back in welcoming him back to the field.
Kelce said he's back to practicing without worries about the ankle or suffering a setback in his return. He understands that fortune also plays a role in maintaining a healthy body through an NFL career.
"But at the same time, you can't think about it, you've got to just put your head down and just play ball and work your tail off,” he said.