Chiefs TE Kelce has speed to burn — and lost time he’s desperate to make up
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If you’re button-mashing on the PlayStation back home, the sequence goes R2, R2, R2, more R2, yet more R2, then square into the end zone.
After all, if you’re going to find pay dirt for the first time in an NFL game — preseason or otherwise — might as well do it with style, baby.
"I wanted to make sure I was in there," Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said with a grin when recounting a 69-yard catch-then-run-then-rolling-dive-for-a-score late in the second quarter of Thursday’s 41-39 exhibition win over the Cincinnati Bengals. "I (didn’t) know who was on my back or anything."
Kelce, who made a habit of breakaway touchdowns at the University of Cincinnati — he averaged 16 yards per catch and racked up eight scores in the fall of 2012 — reportedly timed out between 4.64 and 4.69 seconds in the 40-yard dash just before the 2013 NFL Draft.
The guy zipping past almost a half-dozen Bengal defensive backs on Thursday looked a hell of a lot faster than that.
"I mean, heck, he was pulling away from secondary players there," coach Andy Reid said. "That wasn’t just a linebacker; I was impressed with that."
Chiefs fans were, too. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound receiver is one of The Andy Gang’s more interesting case studies this month, largely because — well, to this point, Kelce, a third-round draft pick two springs ago, is still something of a great unknown.
The YouTube catalog from his Bearcat days shows a target with soft hands and about six extra gears, the perfect vertical/stretch-the-field threat for a West Coast-style offense, a trailing linebacker’s worst nightmare. But it’s promise untapped; knee problems started to crop up in Kelce’s world about this time last year.
Initial reports were of a bone bruise on the left side, but the farther along the preseason went, the more the former Big East standout seemed to be shuffled toward the back of the deck. Kelce appeared in one regular-season game last fall, on special teams against Dallas. Recurring pain led to surgery in October to repair a micro-fracture, landing him on injured reserve and ending 2013 before it ever really got started.
"I mean, it was the worst," Kelce said. "Really, man — just knowing that I finally made it (to) where I wanted to in life, and not being able to get out there, it hurt pretty bad."
Now Kelce is focused on putting the hurt on the guy across the line. He says the knee is stable and strong, that there’s no discomfort on cuts or plants.
The real test comes in games, though, during blocks, in the piles and scrums where anything goes. But based on the dance moves the guy busted out to celebrate after his score, it’s safe to say the axle feels awfully solid so far.
"Jamaal (Charles) actually came up to me before that drive and said, ‘If you get in the end zone, you’ve got to hit them with a dance,’" Kelce recalled. "And I asked him, what did he want me to hit them with? He said, ‘Something from Houston.’ So I hit them with the NaeNae."
It’s no secret: Reid loves his tight ends — especially the ones who can boogie. He coached them in Green Bay. During a speech at an NFL coaching symposium earlier this year that was transcribed by MileHighReport.com, he raved about them, on and on. His old Philadelphia tight end, Brent Celek, averaged 59.2 receptions from 2009-12, including a team-best 76 five years ago. In Big Red’s world, the more big men you’ve got who can run or block, the merrier.
That goes double for Alex Smith. Of big No. 11’s 81 career passing touchdowns with the 49ers, 32 of them, or 38.2 percent, went to a tight end. If Anthony Fasano doesn’t turn into Smith’s Vernon Davis, maybe a healthy Kelce can.
"Heck," Kelce chuckled, "I haven’t used those wheels like that since college."
Sprint, sprint, sprint, sprint, dive. R2, R2, R2, R2, square. We miss any?
"And then the joystick (tap) at the end," Kelce said with a grin. "It’s the only one I missed."
No pain. Big gains.