St. Joseph, Mo. – An unlikely candidate led the receiving efforts in Kansas City’s preseason opener against Arizona.
It was a player who lined up at offensive tackle for the Chiefs just seven months ago in the 2011 season finale at Denver. Of course, you probably wouldn’t recognize that No. 87 was the same player who wore No. 68 last year.
When you stop ordering 2 for 20s by yourself at Applebee's... twitter.com/stevemaneri/st…— Steve Maneri (@stevemaneri) August 5, 2012
More on that “Two for $20” Applebee’s special later…
Maneri, a converted offensive tackle, shed more than 40 pounds this offseason after coaches asked him to move to tight end. He responded by pacing the Chiefs with three catches for 69 yards in his NFL debut at the new position.
“I guess they don’t cover offensive tackles,” Maneri joked afterward.
But Maneri looked nothing like a lineman Friday night. Not running down the rail, catching a 28-yard pass off a double move that caused a Cardinals linebacker to bite.
It was a flashback to days of old for Maneri.
The Chiefs claimed Maneri last September off waivers from New England. He was part of the Patriots final round of training camp cuts and the Chiefs needed an extra tackle with Ryan O’Callaghan’s shoulder forcing him to injured reserve and Jared Gaither’s back flaring up once again.
Maneri played in six games last season, mostly as an extra blocker in heavy formations.
Last year was Maneri’s third in the NFL since entering the league as an undrafted free agent with Houston in 2010. Back then, he was undergoing the opposite transformation. Houston wanted the former Temple University tight end to put on weight and play offensive tackle.
“When they decided I would be an NFL offensive tackle I was about 265 pounds,” Maneri recalled. “Gaining 30 pounds wasn’t easy, but taking the weight off was really easy. I’m naturally a thinner type of person. It just came right off.”
Maintaining a 300-pound frame was a constant struggle for Maneri. One of the ways he kept on the weight was by frequenting his neighborhood Applebee’s to down the “2 for $20” special by himself (that’s two full entrees and an appetizer for $20 if you haven’t seen the commercials).
“I just started eating like a normal person again and the weight came right off,” Maneri said.
Even when he was over 300 pounds and playing offensive tackle, Maneri was adamant that he still possessed the necessary hands to catch the football.
His first NFL reception came last season against Pittsburgh when he lined up as a pass-eligible offensive tackle. Maneri was tackled in the open field after a one-yard gain, but Steelers safety Troy Polamalu had to leave the game after his head banged into Maneri’s knee.
“My leg was much bigger then,” Maneri said. “I’ve always had hands. Getting open is the hard thing.”
But Maneri is much more agile now than he was when the Polamalu collision occurred last November. The weight loss, paired with his blocking ability as a former lineman, has Maneri in the running for a roster spot behind tight ends
The Chiefs currently have several candidates, each with varying strengths and weaknesses, vying for the No. 3 tight end job. Maneri’s primary competition at the moment appears to be fourth-year pro Jake O’Connell.
A seventh-round pick in 2009, O’Connell has appeared in 27 games (eight starts) for the Chiefs over the past three seasons and offers more position flexibility than Maneri. A fluid fullback situation could favor O’Connell, but the Chiefs went with a block-first third tight end in Anthony Becht for much of last season.
Who knows, maybe the Chiefs keep four tight ends? Rookie
For now, however, Maneri isn’t worried about the numbers game. He’s just trying to impress at his new position.
And don’t let Friday night’s standout receiving performance fool you. This former offensive lineman knows what he needs to do in order to make Kansas City’s roster.
“Let it be clear that I’m here to block,” Maneri said. “I’m a blocking tight end and that’s what I’m here to do. There were several plays that I wish I could take back and do better on. That’s definitely my focus.”