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