The matchup problems that diverse, athletic tight ends give to a defensive coordinator is exactly the reason why NFL offenses have tried to highlight these athletes if given the opportunity.
While some players are blurring the line between what’s classified as a tight end or wide receiver, the only thing that really matters is they’re classified as a problem to defend.
With two tight ends on the field, defenses have to make a decision and that is most likely going to keep them in a base defense. They won’t sub a linebacker or lineman for a defensive back because of the run-matchup problems.
Therefore, defenses are either covering these tight ends with a linebacker or a safety, either in the box or out in space, depending upon where the offense thinks they have an advantage.
The ability for an offense to take a 6-foot-5, 240-pound athlete with lateral agility and line him up out in space creates a mismatch that favors the offense.
While they still have to make the play, the odds have swayed to the offense's favor.
Speaking with Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, there are a few key things a tight end must have to play in their particular offensive system, and why having a player with the ability to move around in different formations is advantageous.
“One, they have to be able to understand the concept of what we’re trying to get done,” Pederson said. “And two, moving tight ends, moving backs [and] sometimes receivers around in your formations give nice little man-zone blitz indicators for your quarterbacks.
“By formation [and] by design, we’re going to continue to move those guys around. Tight ends are a big part of that and then again, with their athleticism, if they’re able to play in space and they’re able to play away from the football.”
While Fasano has by far the most experience of the group, the lack of playing time for the rest of them hasn’t diminished expectations for a talented group.
“Yeah I really do think it’s a position of strength for us,” quarterback
An eight-year NFL veteran who has played in 117 games so far in his career, Fasano has accumulated 228 receptions for 2,573 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Fasano leads a group in Kansas City that Smith believes can take advantage of the matchup problems seen around the league with big, athletic tight ends-something Smith has seen since OTAs.
“I think those guys are so versatile that they’re a matchup problem and now with the pads on, you’re getting to see that,” Smith said. “Those guys can come in and they can matchup on smaller guys and block and we can run the ball and they can make a lot of plays in the passing game as well.”
Pederson sees Fasano taking the leadership role among the group.
“Anthony (Fasano) is the smart guy,” Pederson said. “He’s the ring-leader in their room and he really encourages the young guys and helps them study and helps them prepare.”
While Kelce missed most of his rookie season with an injury and Harris was on the practice squad while making the transition from basketball, Gordon caught just one pass in two games last season for the Chiefs.
Gordon has played in 29 NFL games in this three-year career.
But Fasano’s leadership will be key if this group is to take the next step forward.
“We got a young group,” Fasano said. “I think we have a very hard-working and eager group that pretty much gets better every day. We have a long way to go as a whole, including myself, to be a part of this offense that a tight end needs to be. But [we’re] moving in the right direction. I look forward to some preseason games and some live action.”
Pederson believes Gordon could also provide leadership to this young group.
“He could bring that leadership as well,” Pederson said of Gordon. “So it’s really a good group. It’s a diverse group. But it’s four good guys that really challenge and compete every day.”
Understanding the transition to football for Harris and how difficult that might be for him, Pederson knows the veteran leadership on the roster should help him.
“Demetrius Harris [is a] young kid [and] former basketball guy who has a great skillset,” Pederson said. “He’s great for somebody like Anthony (Fasano) to nurture him and mature him and bring him along.”
After spending last season on the practice squad, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Harris is much more comfortable heading into his second season with the Chiefs.
“I feel way more comfortable,” Harris said. “Last year I was coming in as a basketball player. I didn’t really know the system, didn’t know the personnel [or] how to read defense. And I was just too slow. Now I just got confidence knowing the playbook well, getting into the playbook at night more and understanding the defense and just getting to the ball and going 100 percent.”
In a terrific feature at KCChiefs.com by Rachel Santschi, Harris explained how he went from a college basketball player to the NFL in that player profile.
“I was going to stick with basketball, I figured my NFL dreams were over,” Harris explained. “I was getting ready to sign with an agent to start playing basketball overseas. Football was not on my mind at that point, but when I got the call from the Chiefs, I knew it was a chance I needed to take.”
While he’s more physically suited to play in the NFL now than he was a year ago, Harris has impressed Pederson at how far he's come in understanding the nuances of the position.
“It’s unbelievable where he’s come just mentally, with understanding what we’re trying to get done offensively with that tight end position,” Pederson said, “And then on top of that, just the physical nature of him--being in the weight room, being in the offseason program, physically developing his body and understanding he’s going to play along the line of scrimmage.
“His development is right now just off the charts as far as taking a young guy that’s a basketball guy and making him a tight end.”
After all the hard work he put in over the offseason, both mentally and physically, Harris understands what he needs to do to continue his development.
“With the offense here, he (Andy Reid) uses the tight ends a lot,” Harris said. “So you have to know every personnel and you got to know everything and be confident in what you’re doing. If you mess up, get back up and do the next play 100 percent. It’s tough trying to know all positions the but you just got to get in your playbook at night.”
Kelce, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound athlete who was the Chiefs third-round pick in 2013, caught 59 passes for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns in 35 games at Cincinnati.
But after being placed on injured reserve and missing the majority of last season with a knee injury, Kelce remembers how difficult it was for him to watch from the sidelines.
“It was tough just because I couldn’t be out there with the team,” Kelce said. “I’m a guy that just wants to go compete. So it was pretty tough for me.”
Pederson knows it’s like having another rookie out there in Kelce due to all the time he has missed, but is encouraged by what he has done and what he brings to the table when healthy.
“He’s the guy that’s really having to kind of re-learn because he wasn’t out there during OTAs or last season,” Pederson said. “So he’s done a nice job and he brings another whole skillset to you from an athletic standpoint.”
While they’re competing for roster spots and time on the field here in St. Joseph, Missouri, Fasano explains how important this time is for development and for him to help bring along these younger players, just as he was back in 2006 as a rookie in Dallas.
“It’s great,” Fasano said. “We all get along personally. We’re learning each other’s quirks and it’s good. It’s part of becoming a team. This is the time to do that, when you’re in tight quarters and [spend] all hours of the day together.
“I just try to help them become professionals. Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys veteran TE) did it to me when I was young. I learned a lot from him—not only on the field, but off the field. [Things like] how to prepare and how to treat it like it’s your job and your number one priority.”
On paper, the Chiefs tight end group looks like a big question mark for this team. There’s not a lot of experience and if it doesn’t make you feel good to look in a box score or statistical chart and see that lack of production.
But when watching this group live out on the field and seeing what they’re able to do individually from an athletic standpoint, as well as an overall offense with the creativity in moving guys around with different personnel packages, there’s a lot to be excited about for this group this season.
It’s just a matter of staying healthy and continuing to do what they’ve done so far at training camp.
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