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Travis Kelce talks Noah Gray’s development at Chiefs’ mandatory minicamp

An early hint that we could see the return of more two-tight end sets for Kansas City in 2021.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

For the first time since selecting James O’Shaugnessy in the fifth round in 2015, the Kansas City Chiefs took a tight end in the NFL Draft — Noah Gray, also in the fifth round, out of Duke University. And with that, 31-year-old All-Pro veteran Travis Kelce had a 22-year-old understudy.

It sounds like something he has already embraced.

“One of coach (Andy) Reid’s big things is bring energy and show your personality, and so far [Gray’s] done both,” said Kelce at his Tuesday Zoom press conference after the first day of mandatory minicamp. “It’s been a lot of fun so far. 83, he’s got a very unique way of understanding football. He’s years ahead of being a rookie, which is awesome. You can kind of give him pointers, and he’s running with everything. He’s absorbing all the information that the coaches are giving him, that he’s hearing from other players, and he’s having a lot of success out there on the field. He’s going to definitely help us this year.”

The Chiefs drafted Kelce back in 2013, though he missed almost his entire rookie season due to knee surgery. Kelce truly began his playing career in 2014, with a veteran in Anthony Fasano to help guide him.

“Just the confidence of the game — I think that’s the biggest thing that Fasano gave me, was that if you put the work in, if you understand the game mentally, you can play so much faster,” said Kelce, who broke out as the Chiefs’ leading receiver that year with 862 yards. “I think Noah has a great understanding of the game. He has a good understanding of what defenses are being presented in front of him, and that’s half the battle, knowing what the other side of the ball is doing so you have an idea of what you should be doing. And yeah, he’s hit the ground running ever since we started.”

Shortly after the Chiefs drafted Gray, Kansas City’s director of player personnel Mike Bradway noted that Gray is highly physical and can run some of the same routes as Kelce.

“What Noah does best is his receiving skills,” said Bradway at the time. “He knows how to set defenders up and create separation. He has really good hands. He can extend, catch the ball, adjust, all those things that you want to see from a tight end that may not create space, even though he can, but he can still catch in a crowd and do those types of things. So, that’s what you like about him.”

The Chiefs have had decent options at No. 2 tight end in the past in Demetrius Harris in 2018 and Blake Bell in 2019, but they lacked that kind of option in 2020, as two-tight end usage (12-personnel) dropped from 28% to 18%. Harris and Bell’s presence on the club made Reid more comfortable to implement such sets.

Bell is back now after a year with the Dallas Cowboys, though Gray may provide an even better option for Reid. The on-field sets were noted as an emphasis on the first day of mandatory camp.

“I think the biggest thing is just the mismatches,” said Kelce. “It presents a different set of formations and a different set of rules for the defense to be more gap-sound in the run game but at the same time have an idea of more play-action stuff. Then, for the most part, they bring in more linebackers or a bigger guy because we’re bringing in bigger guys, so they try to match the personnel, which can also kind of play in our advantage because we’ve got guys that can run routes everywhere in the tight end room.

“It’s just trying to take advantage of those mismatches and just be accountable for the team. Anything that coach Reid can imagine, we want to be able to give him that option to call.”