Tight ends are a huge part of Chiefs offense, so where the heck are the healthy ones?
Andy Reid and Alex Smith like tight ends -- too bad the Chiefs seem to be running out of them
By SEAN KEELERFS Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Fun fact: Of Alex Smith's 81 career passing touchdowns, 32 of them, or 38.2 percent, landed in the hands of a tight end.
Vernon Davis had a lot to do with that -- 30 of those 32 catches, to be exact -- but the point stands. Like his quarterback, new
Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid is a tight end freak, too: When Reid helped coordinate Mike Holmgren's offenses in Green Bay, they often featured the two-tights combo of Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura. As a head coach in Philadelphia, Reid tried to replicate that, at least early on, with Chad Lewis and L.J. Smith.
The Eagles' current tight end, Brent Celek, averaged 59.2 receptions over the past four seasons under Reid, including a team-best 76 in 2009. Over the past three seasons, Celek ranked 13th (2012), ninth (2011) and 12th (2010) among NFL tight ends in terms of targets.
Which, if you're Anthony Fasano, means things are open for business. And business is good.
"The field condenses down in the red zone, so there's tighter throws," the Chiefs' No. 1 tight end told FOXSportsKansasCity.com. "You need big bodies in there to make tough catches. I think the tight end position is evolving into that type of player. And you know, if it works for the offense, and guys can do it, it's an advantage for them."
When preseason camp opened more than a month ago, the Chiefs figured they had three guys who could do it in Fasano, incumbent Tony Moeaki and rookie Travis Kelce. But August can do funny things to an NFL roster, and even funnier things to the best-laid plans.
On the plus side, Smith and Fasano showed in preseason games that their spring rapport was no fluke: The new tight end, a free-agent import from the Miami Dolphins, finished the month with the third-highest number of receptions (eight) on the roster. And of Smith's 31 August completions, seven of them, or nearly a fourth, went to the tight end position.
There would have been more, too, except for one problem. Well, two problems, really: Neither Moeaki nor Kelce could stay on the field.
Moeaki, who tantalized Chiefs fans with a stellar 47-catch season as a rookie in 2010 but has struggled with health problems ever since, suffered a fracture in his shoulder during the club's preseason victory at Pittsburgh last weekend. He's expected to be on the shelf for at least 12 weeks -- this after sitting out pretty much all of the Chiefs' April-June programs recovering from a knee injury.
"He's had some bad luck with injuries in the past," Fasano said. "But he prepares, and he did his (individual) work in the spring."
Speaking of spring, the 6-foot-5 Kelce appeared to be one of the gems of shorts-and-shells work in the spring. But the preseason has been far less kind to the former Cincinnati Bearcat star: After finally working his way back into the lineup Thursday night against Green Bay, even making a nice 11-yard grab to convert a first down, the Ohio native appeared to reinjure the knee he had bruised the week before.
"I haven't done anything there yet (with Moeaki)," Reid said after the game. "Kelce's going to be OK."
Reid noted that the rookie was pulled for precautionary reasons and would get an MRI today.
"I think he should be fine (for Jacksonville)," the coach continued.
If he isn't, the next few days of roster planning get a little more complicated. The club's current No. 3 tight end, 27-year-old Kevin Brock, hasn't appeared in an NFL tilt since 2011, and that was just two games with Buffalo. The fourth option at the moment, rookie Demetrius Harris, was playing college basketball at Wisconsin-Milwaukee at this time a year ago, and smells more like a practice squad project.
Do you roll the dice with what you have, or dive into the open market over the weekend? Some familiar names are already available, including former Kansas State standout Travis Tannahill, recently let go by Cleveland; ex-Jayhawk Tim Biere (ex-Atlanta); and veteran Visanthe Shiancoe (ex-Baltimore). The numbers don't lie: Smith knows what he likes -- and he likes big, reliable targets.
"All of us are going to play, all of us are going to have different roles in this offense," Fasano said. "It's not going to be one guy plays 70 (snaps) and another guy plays six. We're going to have (rotations) of in and out, keeping guys fresh, putting guys in certain mismatches, so it's fun. It's fun to be at our position right now."
Assuming, of course, that you can stay upright.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.