Chiefs stocked with former basketball players at tight end

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Quarterback Alex Smith said he could tell immediately that Kansas City Chiefs tight ends Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris and Ross Travis have basketball backgrounds. It had nothing to do with their respective heights, Kelce at 6-foot-5 and the others at 6-7.

It had everything to do with the way they go after the ball when a pass is headed their way.

"Certainly all three of them are very, very good with the ball in the air and that shows up on the field," Smith said. "All of those guys, you want to put the ball up no matter what kind of throw or route they're running.

"Growing up playing basketball, certainly there is a carryover there."

The Chiefs, who love their three-tight-end formations, are quietly optimistic about what they might get from this year's sets that could well include a 260-pounder with wide receiver skills in Kelce and two other athletes who played basketball but not football in college.

Kelce, a high school basketball star, took a more traditional route to the NFL, having played football in college at Cincinnati. Harris, signed as an undrafted rookie in 2013, and Travis, added to the practice squad early last season, learned much of what they know about playing football since they joined the Chiefs.

But each player said he might not be where he is in football without a basketball background. Harris, who became the Chiefs' No. 2 tight end last season, caught his first NFL touchdown in January against the Oakland Raiders by going up high in the end zone to snag a pass from Smith.

To Harris, that was a basketball play, or at least one that required basketball skills.

"I thought of it as going up for a rebound or an alley-oop," he said. "That's where playing basketball really helped on that play."

Travis said, "I was a big rebounder in college. Catching passes is like that. It's reading the ball and going to get it and just being able to use your body to hold off defenders. That all translates from basketball."

Harris had some football background before he joined the Chiefs. He was a star in Arkansas before choosing basketball in college at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Travis gave up football as a freshman in high school in Minnesota.

"I regret not playing in high school," he said. "Football was really my first love. I wanted to be a Miami Hurricane wide receiver. But I went the basketball route instead."

Travis played basketball at Penn State. After finishing his eligibility in 2015, he tried out last year at the rookie camp of the Houston Texans, who are coached by Bill O'Brien. O'Brien coached at Penn State before joining the Texans.

The Texans didn't sign him. He didn't hook on with a team until he signed with the Chiefs as a practice squad player early last season.

He admits now to being lost for most of the season. He was unsure most of the time of some of the most basic of things, like where to line up on a given play.

"It was a big mess for me," he said.

Travis knows where to line up now, as well as how to run routes and catch passes. He has been one of the stars in offseason practice, which is conducted without pads or much physical contact. The Chiefs are eager to see how Travis does at training camp, with the pads on.

They seem confident he can help this season at tight end. Smith, though, doesn't see Travis, Kelce or Harris as that.

"It's like the power forward room right there," Smith said. "We've got a bunch of power forwards."