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Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce should be ready to play by training camp

The star tight end is the only player in the tight end room who is a lock to play the position this September

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs now have seven tight ends on their 90-man roster — Travis Kelce is a lock as the starter. The Chiefs will carry two — possibly three — tight ends on the final roster when the season begins.

So six players are competing for one or two roster spots — the heaviest competition at any position on the team — but right now, the Chiefs are having trouble putting very many of them on the field for OTAs.

Thus far, Kelce has been held out of offseason practices because of the ankle surgery he had after last season. But according to head coach Andy Reid — who spoke to the media after the team’s OTA session on Thursday — two more were sidelined.

“There are a couple of guys that are nicked up just a little bit,” he said. “Blake Bell’s back locked up on him — just spasms — so he didn’t practice today.”

Bell, a former Oklahoma Sooner quarterback who converted to tight end in his final college season, came to the Chiefs after stints with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers — who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

But Reid said another one of his bevy of tight ends was kept out of practice on Thursday.

Deon Yelder, the tight end, had a little bit of a hamstring strain,” Reid said. “He’s just precautionary — keeping him out today and we’ll see how things go down the road with him.”

Yelder — an undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky — spent the first part of the 2018 season on the New Orleans Saints practice squad. Released by the Saints in early October, he was signed to the Chiefs practice squad and promoted to the active roster a few weeks later. He saw special teams action in three games last season.

That leaves John Lovett, David Wells, Joe Fortson and Nick Keizer — the latter signed just a week ago after being released by the Baltimore Ravens.

“We just signed a new kid, Keizer, and actually he’s doing a nice job,” Reid told the press on Thursday. “Wells is in there too doing well. We’ve mixed both of our fullbacks in to take some reps there and they’re doing a nice job likewise.”

Both of their fullbacks?

Former Green Bay Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski had been one of the Chiefs’ early offseason signings, but he was released several weeks ago; only longtime Chief Anthony Sherman is listed as a fullback on the current Chiefs roster.

Reid’s words suggested that Lovett — another converted quarterback whom the Chiefs had previously said was getting work at the fullback position — might be seen by Chiefs coaches as more of a fullback than a tight end (perhaps even an H-back, if you will). Reid’s next statement amplified that idea.

“If you’re going to play fullback here you’re also going to have to play tight end,” Reid said. “All in all, they’re getting great work. With Travis not being able to practice they’re getting great work.”

Reid’s statements provide some hints about how the Chiefs might intend to structure the 53-man roster in 2019. The Chiefs carried just two tight ends in 2018, but they could decide to keep an extra one this season if that player could also serve as a fullback. Or to put it another way, the Chiefs could decide to keep two fullbacks — one of whom could also be used as a tight end.

As always, Reid likes to keep opposing defenses guessing. That kind of versatility built into his offensive roster could add another layer of uncertainty to what the Chiefs might do when a particular group of offensive players is on the field.

But one thing remains certain: Kelce will be the starter at tight end. Reid was asked if Kelce would be ready for the mandatory minicamp that begins June 11.

“I don’t think next week,” Reid replied. “I think you’ll probably see him at training camp.”

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