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Catching On

Posted Sep 23, 2010

After a somewhat anonymous preseason, rookie TE Tony Moeaki is Kansas City's receiving leader

Where was Tony Moeaki for the month of August?

Moeaki’s preseason stat line: one catch for 16 yards.

He was there, and he was blocking, but those aren’t the type of numbers most were expecting from a player as athletic as Moeaki. Granted, Moeaki was nicked during the Chiefs intrasquad scrimmage in early August, and missed virtually half of the preseason slate, but he was somewhat anonymous even when he re-joined the preseason playing field.

The questions started flowing after the Chiefs second preseason game in Tampa. Moeaki has already missed the opener in Atlanta, but started the game in Tampa alongside Leonard Pope when the Chiefs went with a double tight end set. After that play, however, Moeaki disappeared.

Before the Chiefs selected Moeaki in the third round of the 2010 Draft, many scouting services touted Moeaki as the best tight end prospect on the draft board. The only catch was that he carried the dreaded “injury” label.  Moeaki struggled to stay healthy in college, and was in and out of action during his first offseason in the Chiefs program.

Moeaki’s time off the field this preseason certainly wasn’t helping to deter that injury-prone label, or even aide in his transition from amateur to pro.

“I’ll say this, tight ends in training camp are lumped in with offensive linemen – generally they’re not going to feel very good,” Coach Todd Haley said. “That’s just the way that it is. That mentality is critical to the success of tight ends and Tony is developing that.

“He’s got a ways to go,” Haley continued. “I would say there are some encouraging signs about him but I would never keep somebody that could be a part of this team (out) – you’ve got to get ready, you’ve got to get ready to go and you’ve got to utilize every bit of time you have because that’s a difficult position, -- you’re learning run and pass routes, steps, adjustments, all those things, which is a big job.”

But when Moeaki did get back on the field for exhibition play, he was still anonymous; at least from the perspective of the stat log.

Those down-field mismatches that Moeaki was known for creating in college, and had shown so many times in offseason practices, either weren’t part of his game on gameday or weren’t part of the Chiefs preseason package. Whatever the reasoning, the ball wasn’t thrown in Moeaki’s direction very often.

Two weeks into the season, it’s interesting how all of that has changed.

Things are much different now. Moeaki’s play is line with that of a play-maker. It’s what Chiefs fans had hoped to see after Moeaki turned in widely impressive rookie and veteran mini-camps.

Currently, Moeaki is leading the Chiefs in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs. His first catch as a pro went for a touchdown and he was targeted a team-high 10 times last weekend in Cleveland.

For the fantasy football freaks out there, Moeaki went from a “player not worth owning” to “a sleeper candidate on the upswing” in a matter of six days. In real-life football, Moeaki is becoming one of Matt Cassel’s favorite targets.

Right now, at least statistically, Moeaki IS Cassel’s favorite target.

“We’re continuing to work on (our relationship),” Cassel said. “He’s a guy who’s come in here and worked tremendously hard throughout the off-season and he’s got a lot of talent. We’re excited about Tony and he adds a lot to that tight end position. Hopefully he’ll continue to develop and we’ll continue to develop that chemistry and build that relationship.”

Unfortunately for Moeaki, with success come the comparisons to former Chiefs great Tony Gonzalez. Those musings have already found their way into print articles and talk show conversations. Frankly, the comparison isn’t fair for Moeaki; at least not yet.

They are both athletic tight ends who create mismatches and are blessed with excellent hands. Past that, those comparisons shouldn’t be happening, but it’s something that will be an inevitable event for any pass-catching tight end that comes to Kansas City.

In his first press conference, back in May, Moeaki was asked directly how he compares his game to that of Gonzalez.

“He has a billion catches, I have zero,” Moeaki said. “I’m just trying to make the team and help the team in any way possible.”

Since that day the five months ago, Moeaki notched his first a catch, made the football team and is helping out in a number of ways. Not a bad start, check those three goals off the list. Now Moeaki can move on to bigger things.

Right now, though, the Chiefs aren’t counting on Moeaki to lead the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Depending on how game plans are drawn each week, it’s possible that he may not see 10 single game targets the rest of this season.

For now, the plan is about putting Moeaki in places that he can excel and build from there.

“If you coach long enough you see guys react and respond differently and there are guys you’re excited about that tend to wilt and others that keep getting better and better,” Haley said. “All we have is what we know to this point and I think (all the rookies) have shown enough to be excited about but at the same time, the good thing is they’ve got a ways to go, which is a good thing.”

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