DAVE SKRETTA,AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The top tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs a year ago currently resides third on the depth chart, trailing a veteran newcomer and a rather unheralded draft pick.
That alone is illustrative of a couple points.
First, the Chiefs didn’t get a whole lot of production out of the position last year, when they fielded one of the worst offenses in the NFL. And second, new coach Andy Reid intends to get a whole lot more out of it this season, perhaps to take some of the load off his wide receivers.
That’s why he refused to stand pat with Tony Moeaki this offseason, paying big money to lure free agent Anthony Fasano to Kansas City and then spending a third-round draft pick on Travis Kelce.
All three are expected to contribute to the Chiefs’ revamped offense beginning Friday night, when they open their preseason schedule in New Orleans.
“It’s a big group, a physical group and a group, I think, that is really balanced for tight ends,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “I mean that as far as run and pass. A group that can really block and hold their own but really some weapons in the pass game as well.”
That may prove more valuable than blocking in Reid’s modified West Coast offense.
Jamaal Charles is certain to get plenty of carries, so blocking will remain important for the tight ends. But the ability of all three to stretch defenses will be counted upon heavily given that Kansas City is unsettled and largely unproven beyond Dwayne Bowe at wide receiver.
Besides, in an increasingly pass-happy NFL, it’s become trendy to use tight ends as big, burly targets down the field, rather than as brutish blockers on the line of scrimmage. Reid did that with Brent Celek in Philadelphia, and guys such as Jason Witten of the Cowboys and Jimmy Graham of the Saints have brought a bit of glamour to a once-unsexy position with their pass-catching ability.
“The whole offense in general can take the pressure off of everyone,” said Kelce, who is No. 2 on the Chiefs depth chart behind Fasano. “The offense is so friendly in terms of making it easier on guys with their hands on the ball. That being said, I think we take pressure off the receivers.”
The Chiefs signed Kevin Boss in free agency last season, but he was sidelined by a concussion early in the year. That left Moeaki as the only tight end as a threat in the passing game, and he ended up with just 33 catches for 453 yards and one touchdown.
Throw in the modest numbers of backup tight ends Steve Maneri, Kevin Boss and Jake O’Connell and Chiefs tight ends managed 44 catches for 587 yards and two scores out of the position.
By comparison, there were 13 tight ends in the NFL who had more yards receiving last season, and 22 who had more catches than the Chiefs’ tight ends combined. Witten alone had 110 catches for 1,039 yards, nearly double what Kansas City managed to produce in 2012.
Hence, the revamped look at the position this season.
Fasano caught 41 passes for the Dolphins last season, and Kelce showed during his senior season at Cincinnati that he could be a reliable downfield threat. Throw the injury-prone Moeaki into the mix and the result is an intriguing and potentially dynamic group of tight ends.
“They’re very athletic. They’re smart guys. It really gives us some matchup opportunities being able to have three guys to stretch a field,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “It can be a benefit for us, and we’re really excited to have them here.”
Nobody is more excited than Smith, who had Vernon Davis to catch passes in San Francisco.
“Starting with Anthony Fasano, he has a ton of experience. He’s played for a long time in this league and caught a lot of balls,” Smith said. “There’s Tony Moeaki, who is coming back and looking really good out here. And then all the way down we have some young bucks playing really well.”
They’ve been playing well in practice, at least. Fasano knows that the real proof of progress won’t come until they step on the field against the Saints on Friday night in the Superdome.
That’s when all three tight ends will have a chance to prove themselves.
“Our tight ends wear a lot of hats,” he said. “We’re going to have to block in the run game, we’re also going to have to catch the football. You can group us into receivers as a whole, but you can also group the running backs into receivers as well. Just a multifaceted type of position.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.