Departures: Sean Ryan
2009 Starts: Pope (8); Ryan (8); O’Connell (2); Cottam (1)
Career Games Played: Pope (55); Cottam (24); O’Connell (4); Moeaki (0); Slate (0)
Preview: It’s far too easy to get caught up in the training camp hype surrounding the competition for the Chiefs starting tight end position. Yes, the battle should be a fun one to watch, but focusing on who wins the starting role clouds the overall view of the position.
Kansas City has a crop of tight ends that are very different from one another, creating expanded options for situational use of personnel. At 6-8, 264 pounds, returning starter Leonard Pope can provide a sturdy post on the hip of Kansas City’s offensive tackles. Conversely, rookie Tony Moeaki showed excellent hands the ability to create mismatches in the downfield passing game during his limited, but very impressive, off-season work.
The versatility of Kansas City’s tight ends offer Todd Haley’s coaching staff multiple personnel options to use as they see fit. It’s a welcoming sight, particularly since the Chiefs were somewhat one-dimensional at the position a year ago.
Pope’s mid-season arrival steadied a position of wild rides through the first eight weeks of the 2009 season. Off-season departure Sean Ryan was the talk of training camp and sprinted out of the gates to lead the team in receiving a few games into the season. He came back down to Earth shortly afterward and was a healthy inactive for six of the final eight contests.
Last year’s projected starter, Brad Cottam, had a rough go in training camp and found himself on the bench for the majority of 2009’s first half. He worked his way back into the lineup the right way - through nothing but hard work – only to suffer a setback as he extended for extra yardage after a catch vs. Cleveland. It was a tough break for a player who seemed to be coming into his own at the time.
Cottam’s neck injury would land him on injured reserve, and also cause the third-year player to miss Kansas City’s on-field portion of spring work in its entirety. Cottam’s participation in training camp is subject to medical clearance. He could be a candidate for the PUP list, despite chomping at the bit to make his on-field return.
At training camp, most fans will want to pay attention to Moeaki at the line of scrimmage. He’s already shown the ability to go one-on-one with NFL talent in the passing game, but knocking helmets with linebackers and defensive lineman in the blocking game will be a first for the rookie in St. Joseph.
Outside of the three tight ends that seem to generate the most chatter is a pair of young players looking to make their way in the league.
A seventh-round pick in 2009, Jake O’Connell played sparingly as a rookie, but is a player who can play off the line of scrimmage or as an h-back. Rookie free agent Cody Slate was viewed by many scouting services as a draftable player at Marshall before a knee injury cut short his senior season. Slate’s specialty is catching the football, consistently leading the Thundering Herd receiving efforts during his time in Huntington, WV. He’s fully recovered from ACL surgery.
If the Chiefs decide to spread things out, they now appear to have the personnel at tight end to do so. If Haley and Co. would rather go with a sixth offensive lineman, that looks like it could be an option as well.
Quotable: The following player or coach quotes occurred this off-season, relative to the position group.
Haley is looking forward to seeing how Moeaki responds in pads…
“A tight end, another guy without pads that is hard to judge other than he looks like he has a pretty good feel, can find his way open and is not afraid to catch the ball so he is moving in the right direction.”
Haley expects mid-season pickups for 2009, like Pope, to be better adjusted for 2010…
“We now have been able to put them into our program, which I’ve said a bunch of times I’m really excited about the direction we’ve been going in the off-season portion of it and I think it’s got to give them a great chance to compete having that time and learning the system, all those factors, you have to factor in them taking a step for us. It’s tough to come in mid-year and all those guys did a real good job at times. Other times you probably wanted to be better, but it has to help.”
Number Crunch: The Chiefs carried three tight ends on the Opening Day roster in 2009 – Cottam, O’Connell and *Ryan
*indicates opening day starter
Up Next: Quarterback