Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce didn’t make a catch or throw a block to prove he’s 100 percent recovered from micro-fracture knee surgery.
He snapped the ball.
Kelce, who logged all of one play in his rookie season because of knee issues, lined up over the football, bent his knees and served as a long snapper on Monday morning during the Chiefs’ first day of training camp for rookies and selected veterans.
Kelce, a third-round draft pick in 2013, was one of four veterans who are practicing with the rookies, first-year players and quarterbacks while coming off injuries.
Moonlighting as a deep snapper until the full squad takes the field on Thursday was just a bonus, though it should be noted that veteran tight end Sean McGrath is the backup to long snapper Thomas Gafford.
“That’s just the kind of player I am,” Kelce said. “Anything the coaching staff needs me to do or try, I’ll do. We don’t have a long snapper right now, so the coaches wanted me to go ahead and give it a try.
“Actually, the first position I ever played was long snapper in high school. Then I eventually moved to quarterback, but that was back in the day.”
Kelce, in fact, was a standout high school quarterback in Cleveland and played the position as a freshman at the University of Cincinnati before he was converted to tight end.
Kelce, 6-foot-5, 260, appeared to be an ideal fit for Andy Reid’s offense and his ability to make plays downfield as well as over the middle made him the talk of the 2013 offseason program and training camp.
Then, between the end of the preseason and start of the regular season, something happened to his knee. The pain would not subside.
“I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t tell you what it was at the time,” Kelce said.
“Going into a couple practices, it didn’t feel right and from there it just kind of went downhill.”
Kelce dressed for the season opener at Jacksonville but did not play. He participated on one special teams play in week two against Dallas. And that was that.
Kelce was inactive for the next four games, and just when it appeared he was ready to return, he had a setback. Finally, the Chiefs could wait for him no longer. He underwent the procedure on his knee and was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 12.
“It was when we did the scope that I knew it was over for a while,” Kelce said. “I didn’t think it would be season ending. … It was tough just because I couldn’t be out there with the team. The fact that we went 9-0 the first nine games, it was easier than if we were losing. But at the same time, I’m a guy that just wants to go compete. So it was pretty tough for me.”
Adding to Kelce’s frustration, starting tight end Anthony Fasano missed seven games due to various injuries, and a revolving door of journeymen like Kevin Brock, Dominique Jones and Richard Gordon joined McGrath on the active roster while Kelce rehabbed.
During the offseason program and minicamp, Kelce was limited to positional drills and no team practice, but on Monday, he took a full turn without a brace, a wrap or even a Band-Aid on his left knee.
“Sitting around for such a long time just waiting for it to heal,” Kelce said, “getting the whole leg strength, the quad strength, the calf strength … I’m trying to get those muscles to trigger and fire and get my explosiveness back. That was probably the hardest and the longest to do.”
Because he and Demetrius Harris, a first-year player, are the only tight ends in this camp, Kelce had plenty of opportunities on Monday to flash the skills he had displayed before the knee injury. He caught short passes on underneath routes and hauled in a deep bomb from Alex Smith.
“The way he’s rehabbed to get better to this point is outstanding,” said quarterback Chase Daniel. “It’s a grind … an every-single day mentality. He did an excellent job last year in camp, and he’s trying to get his legs under him right now.
“We were joking, he said he had some Bambi legs He’s running around like a lost deer out there. But once he gets his legs under him, his feet under him, he is going to have a great camp.”
Indeed, Kelce slipped and fell to the turf after making one grab, but bounced right up without pain.
“Especially after today,” he said, “it feels pretty good.”