Why Travis Kelce is poised for a huge season

When the Chiefs released veteran tight end Anthony Fasano over the offseason, it pained his younger position mate, Travis Kelce. “When you see Fasano go, that’s a brother. That rips your heart out,” Kelce said. “It just lets you know that it is a business and everybody’s spot is vulnerable.” It also meant that Kansas City had high expectations for Kelce to replace Fasano —who started 22 games for the Chiefs the last two years — and then some. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said the 25-year-old Kelce has the potential to be an elite player, and he’s at a crucial position in the K.C. offense. Even with the free-agent signing of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs lack strong receiving options. And in their ball-control, short-passing offense — K.C. ranked 24th in the league in yards per attempt — the team often employed 3-TE-sets last season. The Chiefs still have basketball player-turned-tight end Demetrius Harris and did draft James O’Shaughnessy in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but the onus will be on Kelce, who caught 67 passes for 862 yards and five touchdowns in 2014 during what basically was his rookie year. A 2013 third-round pick, he played in just one game his rookie season because of a knee injury. He was placed on injured reserve in October of 2013 and underwent microfracture surgery, where holes are drilled in the knee to stimulate cartilage growth. Kelce excitedly launched a comeback, returning to action last season when he burst on the scene with a 69-yard touchdown reception during the first preseason game, a 41-39 victory against the Bengals. “I felt like I was in flames, just running around there with my head on fire,” Kelce told NFP. “It was a huge mile marker for me.” Once the 6-6, 250-pounder passed that initial marker, he continued to flourish. And now nearly two years removed from microfracture, he should see even better results this season. Patients who have undergone major knee surgeries typically report that it’s not until two years postoperatively that they begin feeling 100 percent. “Without a doubt … the cartilage has got to regrow,” Kelce said. “I’m definitely feeling more and more comfortable.” He’s also growing more accustomed to the offense that uses him in myriad roles, including in motion and chip blocking pass rushers. “If you watch the film,” Kelce said, “you can see me everywhere on the field.” Indeed he stands outs, exuberantly celebrating his touchdowns — and even first downs. “He’s tremendously talented, loves to play the game,” Reid said. “He’s like a little kid out there.” Kelce’s energy pumps up teammates during games and even mundane practices and meetings. “When you’re having a bad day,” said Brandon Barden, a tight end on last year’s Chiefs practice squad, “just look at him, and he’ll kind of give you that little spark you need to get through.” Kelce’s enthusiasm is best displayed during touchdown celebrations, including The Nae Nae, The Shmoney Dance, The Bow and Arrow and even one that honors WWE wrestler Ric Flair. “I do have some fun when I do get in the end zone,” Kelce said. “That’s for sure.” It’s a carryover from what he did growing up while “being a knucklehead in the backyard trying to get in the heads of the guys we were playing around with.” “Everything that I come out here and show,” Kelce said, “is a product of who I am and where I’m from.” He grew up in suburban Cleveland with his brother, Jason Kelce, who has started 46 games at center for the Eagles. Reid drafted and coached Jason, who is two years older than Travis, when he was in Philadelphia. That bond likely factored into the Chiefs drafting Travis and knowing he could make an impact in the NFL. “It might’ve helped out a little bit that they knew the kind of family that me and Jason came from,” Travis said. “We’re both hardworking guys and love what we do.” Upon being selected by Kansas City, Travis picked his brother’s brain on Reid, and Jason emphasized the vigilance and attention to detail of Reid, a former offensive lineman at BYU and a tight ends coach for the Brett Favre-era Packers. “He was going to hold you accountable. He wasn’t going to let anything slide,” Travis said his brother explained. “Every fundamental, even when you think he’s not watching, he’s watching every single second.” Reid likely will be keeping a close eye on Kelce’s blocking, an area that he needs to improve to be on par with his stellar body control, route running and ability to gain yards after the catch. As he continues to hone those skills, Kelce seems ready to use his breakout 2014 campaign as a springboard for 2015. “Everybody is really excited about Travis,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said, “We all saw last year what he’s capable of.” Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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