The comfort started to find Gehrig Dieter late last season, as the Chiefs supplemented his special teams role with some offensive snaps. That served as the platform for a productive summer, with Dieter preparing for a more prominent place in an offense led by one of his best friends.
But during an afternoon in August, he felt pain in his back. “It really just came out of nowhere,” he explained. Tests revealed a bulging disc, and in an instant, any momentum Dieter had developed over the previous nine months perished. A day before the season, the Chiefs waived him with an injury settlement.
On Tuesday, after a frustrating couple of months, Dieter finally began the trek back. The Chiefs added him to their practice squad.
“If we had practice today, I’d practice,’ Dieter said before the Chiefs went through a glorified walk-though ahead of Thursday’s game in Denver. “That’s what the wait was for me — getting back to a point where I could do everything without having any pain. That’s where I am now.”
The journey toward returning to his pre-injury form, however, will be ongoing.
As the 2018 season progressed, Dieter became more acclimated to his dual roles. In the regular-season finale against the Raiders last year, he played 15 offensive snaps, along with another 12 on special teams. He also secured his first career NFL catch in that game, a 22-yard reception.
A week later, he hauled in an 11-yard grab in the AFC Divisional Round against the Colts. He pointed to the chemistry he was developing with quarterback Patrick Mahomes, which he believed they further advanced during the summer.
“It was for sure tough,” Dieter said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. It was a different challenge for me. I’ve been pretty healthy my whole career. That was something I’ve never had. It was surprising.”
Without a spot on the roster, he had to get creative to return to football playing shape. Sure, he went through rehab and physical therapy drills. But in order to effectively run routes, he wanted a quarterback capable of making the throws. He enlisted Kyle Shurmur, the Chiefs’ practice squad passer, over the last couple of weeks, along with some other options.
“A couple of solid guys to throw me the ball,” he said. “Thankfully I had someone who was good enough to get out there and throw it around.”
As his former teammates navigated through their 4-2 start, he was rebuilding the movement in his back. A couple of teams extended invitations for workouts, he said, but he didn’t want to try out without being fully healthy.
Once he was, the Chiefs re-opened a door Tuesday he hoped would indeed widen.
Dieter, 26, never left Kansas City.
“(The injury) was bad timing — I thought I had a really good summer and had a lot of momentum going into camp, and then (the injury) happened,” Dieter said. “For me, I just wanted to get back healthy as fast as I could. I’m thankfully back here.”