Wide receiver Donnie Avery flashed his big-play ability early in his first season with the Chiefs, and he showed it in the postseason.
But Avery, who battled a shoulder injury for much of the season, didn’t provide the downfield speed threat that was expected as a complement to Dwayne Bowe for most of last year. Avery played in all 16 games but caught just 40 passes — and only two for touchdowns.
The Chiefs are counting on more production from Avery this season, and especially in Sunday’s season opener against Tennessee, when Bowe will be serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
Avery, 30, will be the club’s only seasoned receiver when he starts alongside Frankie Hammond Jr., who will be playing in his first NFL game, and slot receiver Junior Hemingway, who has made two NFL starts. Backup A.J. Jenkins has caught just eight passes in two NFL seasons; and rookie Albert Wilson made the club as an undrafted free agent.
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“The biggest thing is staying healthy,” Avery said. “Just being out there … even though you might think I kind of fell off, I was still available to the team, whether it was blocking, taking two (defenders) down the field.”
“It’s my role this game to calm down all the rookie guys, tell them, ‘Hey, this is an ordinary game. Just be yourself and play hard.’ Coach is going to put us in position to make plays … .”
A year ago, Avery showed his explosiveness in the second game of the season when he hauled in a 51-yard bomb from quarterback Alex Smith as part of a season-best seven catches for 141 yards in the Chiefs’ 26-16 win at Philadelphia.
Two weeks later at Tennessee, with the Chiefs facing first down at their 1, Avery gathered in a 41-yard pass but hurt his shoulder when he hit the ground. Though he did not miss a game, Avery was never the same receiver for the rest of the season.
“For him to push through and play last year, that was something,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “He’s coming off a really good camp. He’s shown great toughness out here. He can still run very fast.”
Avery outran the Indianapolis secondary for a 79-yard touchdown reception in the Chiefs’ wild-card loss, setting a franchise record for the longest play from scrimmage in a postseason game.
That play left Smith wondering how much he and Avery, with his 4.27 40-yard dash speed, could have accomplished last year had the receiver been healthy.
“He’s a real matchup for us,” said Smith, “a real playmaker … big, big-time speed, and with that comes big-play potential. The tough thing last year was Donnie gutted it out a lot of times but wasn’t 100 percent at all times, which is hard.
“He’s a guy we looked at last year. I know I certainly did at times and could have done (a) lot more. There was a lot out there we left on the field and we need to take advantage of at times. There are times when we have some matchups that are really favorable with him.”
Avery has been injury-free in the preseason and did not miss a day of practice in training camp. He caught three passes for 30 yards during the preseason, when the Chiefs’ first-team offense failed to score a touchdown in 16 possessions.
It was hard to go through the motions in preseason games knowing what was being saved in the playbook for the regular season.
“We’re tired of preseason games. We’re tired of training camp,” Avery said. “We’re ready for the real deal to go out there and show the world, show our teammates what we’ve built.
“As a competitor, you want to do your best and unload all your ammo, but you have to wait for the regular season to get it done.”