ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Perhaps no Kansas City Chiefs player was more eager for the first practice in pads than defensive lineman Mike Catapano. He missed all of last season because of a viral condition that sapped him of his strength, so Monday was the payoff of sorts for the work he's put in since.
"I'm on a new level," Catapano said. "I really am. I've used this time to really take my body and to a place I've never been before. I'm feeling really good out here. It's good to see that translated over when it came to putting on the pads. Now it's about getting better.
"I think I'm the leanest, meanest, 290 (pounds) in the NFL right now."
Catapano is a part-time player for the Chiefs but hardly an afterthought. They're using him as a replacement for the injured Dontari Poe as an inside pass-rusher in their nickel defense.
He's an interesting option in that role. The Chiefs drafted Catapano, then 265 pounds, in the seventh round in 2013 out of Princeton because of his pass-rush skills.
Since then, he's added those 25 pounds and become a down lineman. While he's a backup to starting ends Mike DeVito and Allen Bailey in the regular defense, the Chiefs are hopeful he can provide at least some of the pass-rush push upfront that Poe did.
Monday brought his first chance to show he deserves the promotion. Catapano was happy with the results his first time out.
"I had a real mix of emotions this morning; excitement, nervousness, everything," he said. "Just to get a chance to be out here with my teammates again is what I've been waiting for all year, so it's just a special day for me."