ST. JOSEPH, MO – The Chiefs lost one player to the collegiate coaching ranks this off-season, but stole another away.
Mike Vrabel announced his retirement from professional football over the summer to pursue a post-playing career as an assistant coach at alma mater Ohio State. It was a similar path Chiefs WR
Few times does a second-round draft pick not play a regular season snap for two consecutive seasons, join the college coaching ranks, and then revert to making an NFL comeback bid. But that’s exactly what Colbert is trying to do with the Chiefs.
“I’m blessed to have this opportunity to compete and play again and try to earn a spot on this team,” Colbert said. “Sitting back the last couple of years coaching had kind of made me a lot hungrier to get out here and to play.”
Colbert, 29, is one of 13 wide receivers currently in training camp, but his inclusion is no gimmick. The Chiefs signed him after an impressive workout backed up what was displayed on a video Colbert’s agent had sent to Chiefs headquarters.
“When you watched the tape you were checking the speed of the little counter to make sure it was at regular pace,” Chiefs Head Coach Haley joked. “You just wanted to see him in person and find out if what you saw (on film) was real.”
As it turns out, the video matched the real thing and Colbert was extended a training camp invite.
“He’s competing,” Haley said. “He’s trying to learn the offense as fast as he can, so he knows what to do so he can go out there and compete, and I think you saw a couple of flashes of it (in practice). He’s right in the competition and I think that’s going on all over the field, which has me excited.”
An honest opportunity is all that Colbert is asking for. His last regular season snap came December 28, 2008, in a 31-21 loss at Green Bay where he’d finish with one catch for 11 yards. He played on three teams that season before falling off the NFL radar.
Colbert’s path out of the NFL came almost as quickly as its arrival. He’d had shined as a rookie for the Panthers in place of injured WR Steve Smith, but failed to match his first-year production in three subsequent seasons with Carolina.
Shortly after signing as an unrestricted free agent with Denver in 2008, Colbert was traded to Seattle. He was released a few weeks later. The 0-16 Lions then signed him for the final month of the season.
Without any contract offers since September of 2009, Colbert was prepared to start his comeback bid with the UFL’s Sacramento Mountain Lions if an NFL team didn’t’ call this preseason.
“I wouldn’t say that I was stunned (when the Chiefs called), because I had been training and hoping for this opportunity for about six months,” Colbert said. “I was excited about the opportunity at hand and was just preparing myself to be ready for when it came.”
After failing to make the Lions roster out of training camp in 2009, Colbert coached USC’s tight ends as a graduate assistant last season. The experience under former Oakland Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin gave Colbert a greater understanding and appreciation for the coaching profession, but also re-ignited his interest in returning to the NFL.
“It was fun, number one, because I was at my alma mater,” Colbert said. “Number two, I was able to learn a lot more about football. Since I had the tight ends I had to learn a lot about the run game and the line play. It was a lot different from being just a wide receiver.
“I have a great appreciation for coaches, but it’s even more at this point. I understand what they are going through, what they are trying to accomplish during a practice and what to game-plan for. For me, I know that when I’m out there I need to take advantage and get everything going in the right direction and do everything that I’m supposed to do.”
Graduate assistants (GAs) represent entry-level positions in the coaching profession. They perform the type of time-consuming grunt work that put Colbert in the Trojans’ football offices before the sun came up and keep him there until the early hours of the next morning.
“That’s the life of coaching and that’s why I have great respect for what coaches do,” Colbert said. “They spend so much time trying to put players in the best positions to win and they are away from their families and things of that nature. My hat is definitely off to all of the coaches.”
In his return to the field, Colbert has blended in with the other receivers vying to make Kansas City’s roster. You wouldn’t know he’d been away from the game if you didn’t know his story. His hands are still soft, he runs well and he’s in good football condition. Visually, Colbert looks the part.
He’s also being coached constantly. Earlier this week, just a few snaps after Haley had praised one of his catches, Colbert blew a downfield block. “That’s not Carolina Keary right there,” Haley chirped.
For Colbert, catching Haley’s eye is half the battle. It shows he’s one of the guys again. It also means that he still has a chance.
“Sometimes when you have a year or two (off) like he did, you will definitely see the hunger to play the game that he loves,” Haley said. “He’s competing. He’s learning the offense as fast as he can. He’s right in the competition at the position.”
Colbert’s coaching career is currently only hold and he’s hoping it remains that way longer than just a few weeks.
"Right now my focus is on trying to make this roster and help this team,” Colbert said. “I think coaching gave me a good understanding of where the future might be for me, but I’ll make that decision when it comes and hopefully it won’t be for a while.”