As he settled into his three-point stance early in the first quarter of the Chiefs’ 31-24 loss to the Denver Broncos on Thursday, James O’Shaughnessy had a feeling the ball would soon come his way.
He could tell by the presnap call — he ended up running a drag route out of Andy Reid’s pet three tight end formations — and the Broncos’ presnap coverage.
“I kind of had an idea I’d get a shot,” O’Shaughnessy said.
O’Shaughnessy was wide open, and quarterback Alex Smith hit him in stride. Twenty-four yards later, O’Shaughnessy — the first of the Chiefs’ two fifth-round picks in 2015 — had officially made his first career NFL catch, at home no less.
It was everything he dreamed it would be. He popped up from the turf and — in a move similar to something starting tight end Travis Kelce might do — signaled first down, with the football in his right hand.
“That’s the thing I’ve been working on, to play faster and just kind of letting things go, enjoying it a little bit more, which takes time and experience to really get a chance to enjoy it,” O’Shaughnessy said. “But I just went out there and tried to make a play.”
O’Shaughnessy had been waiting on that moment since the Chiefs’ opener against Houston, when he was targeted once but couldn’t come up with what appeared to be an errant throw from Smith, though O’Shaughnessy took the blame.
“I probably should have got that one in, too — I could have done a little better on that one,” O’Shaughnessy said. “But either way, I just wanted to get the first one out the window so I could start making some more.”
O’Shaughnessy was not done against the Broncos after his first catch, either. Midway through the fourth quarter, with the score tied 17-17, O’Shaughnessy hauled in a quick throw from Smith on an out route, exploded upfield past safety T.J. Ward and sprinted 30 yards for a first down that set up a go-ahead touchdown.
“I told myself I would catch the ball and run as fast as I can, and it’s going to take a couple people to stop me,” O’Shaughnessy said with a laugh.
After the play, O’Shaughnessy took a few steps toward the Broncos’ end zone, staring and screaming, thrilled to be playing a role in a prime-time NFL game.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t even think he was on the NFL’s radar before his senior season at Illinois State in 2014.
“You saw me screaming, man, I had a blast,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Thursday Night Football, against Denver ... to be able to contribute in the first and fourth quarter was just a dream come true.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said O’Shaughnessy, who totaled two catches for 54 yards against the Broncos, has done a nice job adjusting to the speed and physicality of the NFL after coming out of a FCS (Division I-AA) school.
“He went to a little bit of a smaller school, he’s in the NFL, he made it through training camp, which was a good thing, and pushed himself through,” Reid said. “I think you go through there and your legs get tired, your body and mind, everything’s tired, you battle through that and he’s come out on the other end of that now.
“It looked like he played fast in the game and had some productive plays. He’s continuing to get better in the run game and the pass game.”
O’Shaughnessy, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, has mentioned before that he’s looking forward to getting bigger and stronger. But first, he had to persevere through his first NFL training camp.
“To be honest, it was nothing like college,” O’Shaughnessy said of camp. “Obviously, football camp is football camp, but at this level, the amount that’s asked of you, it’s just a different breed, it’s a different lifestyle.
“Of course it’s exhausting, but that’s the point, to see what you’re made of. I think Coach Reid does a great job of making sure that we’re prepared for the season.”
O’Shaughnessy said part of that preparation includes stressing the players, both mentally (with the learning of Reid’s vast offensive playbook) and physically.
While the veterans were accustomed to that, rookies like O’Shaughnessy were not.
“There were times I definitely struggled — I’ll be completely honest,” O’Shaughnessy said. “There’s a lot ... they just plop it on you. But that’s the whole point of the game.
“Obviously, no (camp) is going to be harder than rookie year. So I’m glad I got my first one out of the way. Now I can look forward to having, hopefully, many more.”
He also looks forward to contributing along the way, be it as a receiver or as a blocker. Reid’s offense uses multiple tight ends a healthy amount of the time, which forces defenses to prepare for the run and the pass.
The key to making those sets work, however, are dual-threat tight ends. O’Shaughnessy hopes to establish himself in that way and is optimistic he took a positive step toward proving he can be that type of player with his effort against the Broncos.
“I’m just happy I could help contribute,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Sadly, we didn’t get the win, but I’m not too worried. I think we’re going to have a great rest of the season.”
Chiefs at Packers
▪ WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday
▪ TV: KMBC (Ch. 9), ESPN