Still young himself, Chiefs' Kelce forced to be mentor
Never mind that he is only entering his third season in the NFL, and that Kelce missed most of his first season due to injury. When practice had ended earlier this week, James O'Shaughnessy dutifully picked up Kelce's shoulder pads and helmet and trudged toward the locker room.
''He warned me during OTAs that I'd have to do a little bit of rookie stuff,'' O'Shaughnessy said, ''but it's expected. Nothing I can complain about.''
A few years ago, it was Kelce toting shoulder pads off the practice field, going through a similar dose of rookie hazing. But after a breakout season in which the former Cincinnati star led the Chiefs in receptions, yards receiving and tied for the lead in touchdown catches, he has become the de facto leader of a tight end corps without much veteran presence.
Richard Gordon and Ryan Taylor may have a couple more years of experience, but neither has played many meaningful snaps in the NFL. Besides O'Shaughnessy, the only other tight ends on the Kansas City roster are third-year pro Adam Schiltz and second-year pro Demetrius Harris.
So, the responsibility as fallen on Kelce to speak up in position meetings.
''He's great. He's extremely knowledgeable for how young he is,'' O'Shaughnessy said. ''Everyone knows how talented he is, and as of late, he's put the two together.''
Kelce had 67 catches for 862 yards and five touchdowns last season, helping to mask the deficiencies of the Kansas City wide receiver corps. Only a handful of tight ends - Jimmy Graham, Martellus Bennett, Greg Olsen, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates - were more productive.
In a late-season game at Arizona, Kelce had seven catches for 110 yards. He also had eight catches for 93 yards and a score against New England earlier in the year.
But all that production only seemed to validate the third-round pick that Kansas City spent on Kelce, and made everyone forget the knee surgery that cost him most of his rookie season.
''A lot of balls headed to Travis because he came back healthy,'' Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. ''Travis was a big part of our system last year.''
He figures to be an even bigger part this season.
Kelce split time with Anthony Fasano, a nine-year veteran and more adept blocker, a year ago. But with Fasano no longer with the team, the flamboyantly popular Kelce will be asked to shoulder more of the burden, particularly when it comes to blocking in the run game.
''I've stepped up to kind of be the No. 1 role, with Fasano leaving,'' he acknowledged. ''But other than that, it's all focused on getting better every day. You work on your fundamentals, you go into the film room to see what you have to do. On top of that, there's little things in terms of the schemes that we're doing. It's just putting everything together.''
As solid as Kelce may be as a No. 1 tight end, the Chiefs use plenty of two- and three-tight end sets in their offense. That means that someone else will need to step up.
It also means Kelce will need to continue to tutor them.
''Gordon and Taylor, Schiltz, there are some good guys there that can work in here for potentially a second or third spot,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. '' We've got good competition there. For what we do, we've got some pretty good players there.''
The Chiefs could always make a move after cuts are made, and Harris - who has been out with a foot injury - has shown flashes of athleticism that make him an intriguing possibility.
Regardless of who earns the other jobs, Kelce at least makes them feel good about one.
''It's a group effort,'' he said. ''I might be the name on the group, but it's a cohesive effort. Everybody's putting in the work together, everybody is helping each other out.''
NOTES: RB Jamaal Charles did not participate in 11-on-11 drills Friday while as the Chiefs try to limit unnecessary wear and tear. Knile Davis ran with the first team. ... Taylor left with a left quad injury. DL Nick Williams left with a concussion. ... S Ron Parker made the play of the day by intercepting Alex Smith and returning it for a touchdown.