One of the Kansas City Chiefs’ most consistent, available players hasn’t taken the field in the past two weeks — and you might not even have noticed. Fullback Anthony Sherman has been absent due to exposure to COVID-19. The coaches have undoubtably missed his presence on special teams — but since Sherman is the team’s only fullback, the offense had to get creative in order to replace him.
Against the Buffalo Bills in Week 6, tight end Travis Kelce lined up in the backfield for 12 snaps, which helped to confuse the Bills defense. On some plays, he released into pass routes from the backfield. On others, he served as lead blocker for rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
While he wasn’t asked to line up in the backfield in Week 7 against the Denver Broncos, Kelce knows his position requires readiness to play anywhere.
“At the tight end position, you’re asked to do so many things,” he explained to reporters on Wednesday. “You’ll see me split out wide, singled up like a wide receiver. Like in the Buffalo game, you’ll see me in the backfield. I’ve also played in-line tight end to the H-back tight end — or the adjuster as we call it in this offense — where you can move me around and put me anywhere.
“It’s prideful man. I’m technically the utility guy on the field. Whether you need a plumber or an electrician, I’m here for you. Whether it’s playing fullback, playing wideout, or getting back there and running wildcat playing quarterback. I’m ready for it all and I get excited for it all. Thanks to my coaches for giving me the opportunity to showcase my skills like that.”
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes also recognizes how his favorite target has adapted and evolved in recent games.
“He does it all,” Mahomes emphasized on Wednesday. “And you’ve seen it more and more as we haven’t had Sherman these last few weeks. He’s really stepped up blocking and being that guy blocking from the backfield. He’s hard for defenses to account for. When you have guys like Tyreek Hill, Kelce — guys that can get mismatches for other guys — it helps out the entire offense. Whenever you don’t see the huge receiving yards, you don’t understand how much they’re impacting the game by being the players they are.”
Any player under head coach Andy Reid understands the value of flexibility and creativity on offense. Reid appreciates that in Kelce — but values much more in one of the team’s longest-tenured players.
“He’s obviously a complete player, a Pro Bowl player, an All-Pro player, record holder, all of those things — but every day, he comes to work, and that’s the part I like the best,” Reid remarked. “He tries to get better at his game; he diligently works with Pat, he diligently works with [tight ends coach] Tom Melvin in the run game, asks questions, wants to get it right, all of those things. He wants to be the best — and I can appreciate that.”
Kelce has also expressed an appreciation for the legendary tight ends who have preceded him. In a segment from the FOX pregame show before Super Bowl LIV, he spoke about the specific things he learned from former Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“I think 2011 or 2013,” recalled Kelce. “Where Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham had the blow-up year, where they both had 1200 or 1300 yards and over 10 or 12 touchdowns a piece — I think Gronkowski had 17 that year. That really brought attention to the position. League-wide and in the college ranks, it made offenses think that ‘hey I got an athletic guy, I can put him in these positions and have success.’ It just keeps evolving more and more every year, and it’s a prideful thing. The more I can do to help the team, the more I want to help the team. That’s just the mentality that you have.”
But the other part of that mentality is holding yourself accountable when you hurt the team more than you help it — as Kelce expressed after the loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 5.
I HAVE TO BE BETTER!! For my teammates and coaches.... this loss is on me... and the only way to fix it is to go to work ASAP!!— Travis Kelce (@tkelce) October 11, 2020
On Wednesday, Kelce clarified what he was thinking in that tweet.
“I definitely have moved past it, but I still get frustrated watching that film,” Kelce admitted. “Later in the game, I got a little frustrated trying to make more out of a play than what it was. I was running routes that weren’t called — and I screwed the team doing it. Stuff that you won’t see on film, you won’t see on the stats, but it’s something that I took personal. It was just me being frustrated and trying to be there for my quarterback doing the right things — which I wasn’t doing.”
Then Kelce elaborated further.
“I just have to play within the system and run the plays that are called. We have a lot of freedom in this offense to try and go out there and make plays; it’s had its history of having success. Sometimes it works — but at that point in the game, there was no leeway. I couldn’t do that and I screwed the team because of it. It ended up that Pat threw a pick and the ball went all the way down to the two-yard line. It made it a two-score game — 16 points — so it’s not just a two-score game; you have to put up two two-point conversions.
“I’m learning. Even though it’s year eight for me, I’m trying to make sure I’m not doing too much — and being myself, helping the team instead of hurting the team.”
Kelce has done a lot more helping than hurting. He leads all NFL tight ends in targets, receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns — and also leads the Chiefs in all four categories.
Kelce’s willingness to play from different positions is just as important as his ability to do so. The acceptance of his “utility guy” role is just another example of the selflessness Chiefs players display.