KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tight end Demetrius Harris, who practiced on Sunday for the first time with the Kansas City Chiefs this season because he was waiting for his broken foot to mend, said he's prepared to play some in Thursday night's final preseason game in St. Louis.
It's going to be longer than that before the Chiefs get the full benefit of Harris' return.
"It's going to be several weeks I think with a guy that is coming off an injury, who hasn't practiced," offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. "Now, he's run routes and he's done some things that way but it's one thing to run routes on air versus [against] bodies on defense. It's going to take some time. We can't rush him back, either. We've got to continue to monitor that progress as we go."
Still, Harris' return is positive news for the Chiefs and he'll be worth the wait. The Chiefs were at their best last season when they were able to use their three-tight end formations that featured Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce and Harris.
Quarterback Alex Smith was 22-of-25 with an astronomical passer rating of 129.1 rating last season with the three tight ends on the field at the same time.
The Chiefs' offensive production dropped off in the second half of the season. They averaged 25 points per game over the first eight versus 19 over the final eight.
One reason is the Chiefs could no longer go to the three-tight end formations they favored.
"They were athletic guys that not only could run but could run routes and catch the football," Pederson said. "That was a little bit of a change for defenses that were scouting us.
"Tight ends are a key in the run game for blocking defensive ends and linebackers. When guys are nicked up and missed time, you've got to find other ways to run the football. It set us back a little bit in the running game.
Harris broke his foot during warmups before an early November game against the Bills in Buffalo last year. He stuck his foot into the ground to make a cut and was injured coming out of the break.
"I just felt it pop," he said. "After that, I just felt weird. I was walking on it, but it was [real] pain."
The injury didn't heal properly after the initial surgery, so Harris had a second surgery in May. He developed a staph infection after that to further delay his return.
Harris' return would give the Chiefs a nice trio of tight ends that includes Kelce and rookie James O'Shaughnessy. In the meantime, the Chiefs have been using journeyman Ryan Taylor as their third tight end.
But Harris, a college basketball player, would be an improvement. He's still learning to play football after joining the Chiefs as an undrafted rookie in 2013. He had become a good blocker before the injury and the Chiefs were, and still are, optimistic his receiving skills would follow.