Chiefs QB Alex Smith Excited About Three-Tight End Set Opportunities

The Chiefs have some talented young playmakers at the tight end position

At this point, the world knows about the ability of Kansas City Chiefs fourth-year tight end Travis Kelce, who made his first Pro Bowl a year ago and has put together back-to-back seasons of at least 65 receptions, 850 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Kelce signed a multi-year contract this offseason and is generally known as one of the NFL's top young players at the tight end position.

"He's a very instinctual man and understands the game," Chiefs tight ends coach Tom Melvin recently said of Kelce. "It comes to him well."

When searching for Kelce's biggest advocate, there's not much of a need to look any further than quarterback Alex Smith, who has benefitted from Kelce's combination of size, speed and strength, particularly with multiple tight end sets on the field together.

Last season, Smith averaged more than 8 yards per attempt and completed more than 72 percent of his passes when the Chiefs had three tight ends on the field together.

It's a personnel package that forces defenses to put linebackers out in space in coverage, and when you look at some of the athletes the Chiefs have brought in at the position recently, that scenario is an advantage.

"It's been nice to get those three tight ends on the field and do stuff with them, especially in the passing game," Smith said of the work they've been putting in during OTAs. "Once we can get the pads on and run out of that personnel, I think they'll be a weapon for us."

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The Chiefs not only have the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Kelce, but they also boast a couple of former college basketball players in fourth-year player Demetrius Harris, who stands at 6 feet 7 and 230 pounds, as well as second-year player Ross Travis, who stands at 6 feet 7 and 235 pounds.

They are long and athletic, and the transition for Harris from basketball to the NFL over the past three years has been something that has impressed Smith.

"Now just to watch him play, he's so savvy, so good," Smith said. "Even down in his hands and feet and all the little things. I've been really impressed with [Harris] this spring and just how far he's come from a few years ago when he was trying to make the transition. He's really done it.

"A lot of the time, the physical part of the game is what is challenging for those guys. They kind of get stereotyped for being finesse guys. I think one of [Harris'] strengths is his physicality, being able to use his length and we ask him to do a lot of different stuff and he's embraced that."  

Harris, who finished last season with 7 catches for 74 yards and one phenomenal touchdown catch, which came in the regular season finale against the Oakland Raiders, couldn't be more excited heading into his fourth NFL season.

"This is the most confident I've ever been because I've got a big role now and I know the offense up and down," Harris explained. "That makes me play faster and with even more confidence."

Harris said he's put in plenty of time with head strength and conditioning coach Barry Rubin and his staff to get his body ready for the NFL.

"I always had that physical part in me," he added. "We didn't lift weights that much (in college), but I came here and got stronger. So I just had to put it all together and just not let anybody outwork me or be more physical than me.

"[Rubin and his staff] got me right and stayed on me about lifting weights and getting stronger, and they've seen a big improvement in me and I've seen it myself."

Much of Harris' development can also be attributed to Melvin, who has five players in his tight ends room but only three who have played college football.

It just goes to show the trust the rest of the staff and personnel department have in Melvin's ability to develop these guys into NFL players, and Harris said that trust is earned.

"The best thing about [Melvin] is that he's always keeping us going and keeping us up, saying, 'You can do it. I know you haven't been playing football, but I know you can do it.'

"He just makes you have the confidence you want to have. He's always lifting you up."

Melvin is happy that Harris is healthy and able to put in work this offseason after dealing with injuries over the past few years.

"He's doing a great job," Melvin noted of Harris. "This is the first time he's had a healthy camp in three years, and so he's getting a lot more reps than he has in the past, which is tremendous for him."

A look at the tight ends during the Kansas City Chiefs offseason OTAs

The other player attempting to make that same transition as Harris, Ross Travis, played college basketball at Penn State and gained a lot of confidence from his time on the practice squad last season.

Travis impressed Smith as a member of the "look team" last year.

"He's really shined last year against our defense," Smith explained. "You know, I think the hard part for some of those guys is you get them over and we're running our plays and they're not doing cards anymore."

The "cards" were the scout team's play call of what the first-team defense was preparing to face that coming Sunday.

"A lot of the time, it's hard for those guys to transition," Smith added. "I think the one thing that (Ross) Travis has done well is playing fast. He is continuing to play fast.

"Certainly, mentally and physically, he's a really gifted guy - a matchup guy for us."

As a "card" player, Travis would look at the card in the huddle and then go and run that play, which is much different than having to know the entire playbook for Andy Reid's offense.

"I think some of the players last year just boosted my confidence level and just reassured me that I could be out here and play with these guys," Travis explained. "I know I had a lot of work to put in because guys see me just by reading off a card versus getting out of getting out of a huddle, lining up correctly and executing a play."

Travis knew that learning the offense was going to be huge for him going into his second season, and so he made it a point to spend part of the offseason with quarterback Aaron Murray and center Mitch Morse down in Georgia.

"I'll tell you, he's so dedicated," Morse said of Travis. "He's here (in the building daily) before anyone and he's dedicated to his craft."

Before joining the practice squad last season, Travis hadn't played football since the ninth grade back home in Minnesota, and so his dedication has meant playing catch-up to the level of his teammates.

He was approached after his college basketball career was over about potentially working out at the Penn State Pro Day, and he was ultimately brought in by the Chiefs after going unsigned after a workout at the Houston Texans rookie minicamp.

Travis averaged more than 6 points and 6 rebounds per game in college, but that hasn't prepared him for what is coming when the pads come on, something his teammates have already been playful with him about.

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"It's going to be weird to see what happens when he gets hit for the first time," Morse said with a smile. "We've already hyped him up to get up as fast as he can because it's going to take you off guard. But after that, get up, talk some smack, and you roll.

"It's going to be infectious."

Travis knows it's obviously a question he will have to answer.

"That's my biggest thing," Travis added. "I just want to go out there and show them that I can take a hit."

Along with Kelce, Harris and Travis, the Chiefs have a couple of other second-year players in James O' Shaughnessy and Brian Parker in the mix at tight end, and they've all been impressive during OTAs.

"These guys, they're not asking more and more questions," Kelce explained. "They're more so answering for themselves now, which is awesome to see."

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