Not that there’s a usual time to suffer a broken foot, but a non-contact drill during pregame warm-ups seems a particularly odd time.
“On an out route,” to be exact, Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris said.
Harris felt a pop and then pain. He ran another route, a go, and the pain deepened. The Chiefs were preparing to face the Bills in Buffalo last November, but Harris’ season was over.
He’s back in practice. Monday was his second day in pads and he’d like get on the field Thursday for the Chiefs’ preseason finale against the Rams in St. Louis. But offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said “several weeks” might be needed for Harris to return to game action.
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“It’s one thing to run routes (against) air, but this is bodies on defense,” Pederson said. “It’s going to take some time. You can’t rush him back. You have to continue to monitor the progress as we go.”
Ideally, Harris would have been up and running weeks ago. But a second surgery forced him to miss organized team activities this summer, and a staph infection kept him out of contact drills in training camp.
“We caught it in plenty of time, it was superficial in nature,” Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder said. “It didn’t get down into his surgical site.
“It’s not dirty facilities, it’s in hospitals, school rooms, locker rooms, it’s everywhere. He had an open site from the incision, and as soon as he saw the first signs of it he got to me.”
Whenever Harris returns to game form — he made a diving catch in the end zone during Monday’s practice — the Chiefs are hopeful to rekindle the success they experienced when he was on the field last season. For all that’s made about the Chiefs not throwing a touchdown pass to a wide receiver in 2014, they were wildly effective throwing to tight ends.
Quarterback Alex Smith had a passer rating of 129.9 when Travis Kelce, Anthony Fasano and Harris were on the field together.
Chiefs tight ends caught nine touchdown passes. Harris caught only three passes but was integral in the attack.
After Harris’ injury, the Chiefs found a way to win in Buffalo, but the offense sagged. The Chiefs averaged 25 points per game with three tight ends and went 6-3. Without the grouping, they averaged 19 points and lost four of their last seven.
“It set us back a little bit in the running game,” Pederson said. “We’re blessed to have three, four guys that we can put in there and kind of get the package back for us on offense.”
Kelce led the Chiefs with 67 receptions last season. Fasano was released in a salary-cap move, and the team drafted James O’Shaughnessy from Illinois State in the fifth round. Also on the roster are Richard Gordon and Ryan Taylor.
But Harris’ return is a long-awaited event. About two weeks after the second surgery in May, Harris noticed his foot didn’t look right.
“I was supposed to get off the crutches, but I couldn’t walk,” Harris said. “I just thought it was from surgery, but it was a sore on my foot.”
Harris had never broken a bone or suffered a serious foot, ankle or knee injury while playing basketball at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Recovering was new territory for him, and he made the most of the time, not only in the weight room but also as an observer, taking what he called “mental reps.”
“It’s better to play, but when you’re sitting back and watching you see a lot of things,” Harris said. “It helped me a lot. It made me more confident stepping on the field after watching.”
Harris weighed 265 pounds Monday, more than he wants. He said his ideal playing weight is between 252 and 257.
More than anything he wants to get back on the field. Harris made the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent last season after spending the previous season on the practice squad. He’s the latest in a line of NFL players who transitioned from a college basketball career, usually playing power forward. Two of the game’s all-time top tight ends, former Chief Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates — came through college basketball.
Now, Harris wants to hold court on the field as soon as possible.
“I’m preparing to play,” Harris said. “I want to get back in the rhythm of things.”