Chiefs banking on more production from tight ends

The top tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs a year ago
currently resides third on the depth chart, trailing a veteran
newcomer and a rather unheralded draft pick.

That alone is illustrative of a couple points.

First, the Chiefs didn’t get a whole lot of production out of
the position last year, when they fielded one of the worst offenses
in the NFL. And second, new coach Andy Reid intends to get a whole
lot more out of it this season, perhaps to take some of the load
off his wide receivers.

That’s why he refused to stand pat with Tony Moeaki this
offseason, paying big money to lure free agent Anthony Fasano to
Kansas City and then spending a third-round draft pick on Travis
Kelce.

All three are expected to contribute to the Chiefs’ revamped
offense beginning Friday night, when they open their preseason
schedule in New Orleans.

”It’s a big group, a physical group and a group, I think, that
is really balanced for tight ends,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith
said. ”I mean that as far as run and pass. A group that can really
block and hold their own but really some weapons in the pass game
as well.”

That may prove more valuable than blocking in Reid’s modified
West Coast offense.

Jamaal Charles is certain to get plenty of carries, so blocking
will remain important for the tight ends. But the ability of all
three to stretch defenses will be counted upon heavily given that
Kansas City is unsettled and largely unproven beyond Dwayne Bowe at
wide receiver.

Besides, in an increasingly pass-happy NFL, it’s become trendy
to use tight ends as big, burly targets down the field, rather than
as brutish blockers on the line of scrimmage. Reid did that with
Brent Celek in Philadelphia, and guys such as Jason Witten of the
Cowboys and Jimmy Graham of the Saints have brought a bit of
glamour to a once-unsexy position with their pass-catching
ability.

”The whole offense in general can take the pressure off of
everyone,” said Kelce, who is No. 2 on the Chiefs depth chart
behind Fasano. ”The offense is so friendly in terms of making it
easier on guys with their hands on the ball. That being said, I
think we take pressure off the receivers.”

The Chiefs signed Kevin Boss in free agency last season, but he
was sidelined by a concussion early in the year. That left Moeaki
as the only tight end as a threat in the passing game, and he ended
up with just 33 catches for 453 yards and one touchdown.

Throw in the modest numbers of backup tight ends Steve Maneri,
Kevin Boss and Jake O’Connell and Chiefs tight ends managed 44
catches for 587 yards and two scores out of the position.

By comparison, there were 13 tight ends in the NFL who had more
yards receiving last season, and 22 who had more catches than the
Chiefs’ tight ends combined. Witten alone had 110 catches for 1,039
yards, nearly double what Kansas City managed to produce in
2012.

Hence, the revamped look at the position this season.

Fasano caught 41 passes for the Dolphins last season, and Kelce
showed during his senior season at Cincinnati that he could be a
reliable downfield threat. Throw the injury-prone Moeaki into the
mix and the result is an intriguing and potentially dynamic group
of tight ends.

”They’re very athletic. They’re smart guys. It really gives us
some matchup opportunities being able to have three guys to stretch
a field,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. ”It
can be a benefit for us, and we’re really excited to have them
here.”

Nobody is more excited than Smith, who had Vernon Davis to catch
passes in San Francisco.

”Starting with Anthony Fasano, he has a ton of experience. He’s
played for a long time in this league and caught a lot of balls,”
Smith said. ”There’s Tony Moeaki, who is coming back and looking
really good out here. And then all the way down we have some young
bucks playing really well.”

They’ve been playing well in practice, at least. Fasano knows
that the real proof of progress won’t come until they step on the
field against the Saints on Friday night in the Superdome.

That’s when all three tight ends will have a chance to prove
themselves.

”Our tight ends wear a lot of hats,” he said. ”We’re going to
have to block in the run game, we’re also going to have to catch
the football. You can group us into receivers as a whole, but you
can also group the running backs into receivers as well. Just a
multifaceted type of position.”

Online: http://www.pro32.ap.org/poll