ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The most effective grouping of offensive players utilized last year by the Kansas City Chiefs was their three-tight end formations. Quarterback Alex Smith had an astronomical passer rating of 129.2 when the Chiefs had tight ends Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris on the field at the same time during the season’s first eight games.
The Chiefs had to get away from those formations in the second half of the season after losing Harris with a broken foot. Their offense sagged as a result. The Chiefs averaged 25 points when they were able to utilize those three tight ends, 19 points afterward.
The Chiefs begin training camp on Saturday at Missouri Western State University and they will probably have only one of those three tight ends available. Fasano was released and Harris is unlikely to practice because his foot has yet to heal after having a second surgery.
That's OK, because Fasano and Harris are replaceable players. But if the Chiefs have adequately replaced them, that fact hasn’t revealed itself yet.
In addition to Kelce, the Chiefs have at tight end fifth-round draft pick James O'Shaughnessy, a couple of journeymen in Richard Gordon and Ryan Taylor, and developmental prospect Adam Schiltz. Then there's Harris.
It’s difficult to see how the Chiefs can field a productive three-tight end formation from that group. A healthy Harris could help, but he missed the last half of last season and all of the offseason practice sessions because of his foot injury.
The Chiefs have given no indication when he will be back, but even if it’s soon, he hasn’t practiced or played in nine months. It will take him some time to get used to football again. Even then, Harris is a former college basketball player and is far from a finished product.
The Chiefs are putting a lot of faith in O’Shaughnessy. He looked like he belonged during offseason practice, at least as a receiver. He was able to beat coverage down the field and make several catches.
But the Chiefs will soon begin practicing in pads, and the game will change for O’Shaughnessy. It will get a lot more physical. He might be able to handle that, but the NFL is a big jump from Illinois State, so that’s a lot to expect.
For now, the Chiefs look like they have Kelce plus a lot of wishful thinking at tight end. That’s an unenviable spot for a team desperate to upgrade its passing game.