With an exceptional combination of size, strength and athleticism, the Chiefs tight end was a potential impact rookie last season. Now, he has his sights set high after recovery from a microfracture surgery that to this point has prevented him from ever seeing the field.
How do you spend a day off, like today?
For me an off day is really just a recovery day, a replenishing day. I got to the facility around 8:00 a.m. this morning just to get into the cold tub, start to get work done ... They call it scraping, but it's really a deep tissue massage with stuff they use to get all of the adhesions out of my leg and get everything flowing good in my legs. I do that with the trainers until about 10. From there I go into the weight room and do a full body lift to keep everything tight and strong for the game.
Can you tell a difference in how you feel week to week?
Oh man, from the first time I stepped out on the field in training camp or even back in OTAs or minicamp, I am head over heels. The strength is entirely different. I'm way stronger. I'm way more comfortable going in and out of routes. My fundamentals are a lot better. Just the entire feel for the game feels a lot better, just going out there and not having to think about it. Every single week it gets better and better.
When you say there's a lot of improvement, what specifically comes to mind?
Just the techniques of playing the tight end position -- the footwork, the pad level, the leg endurance specifically. My legs are starting to get stronger and stronger, but I need to last a full four quarters. That's what I'm working on in the preseason is being able to be in top shape for Sept. 7.
How does the stamina level feel at this point?
I feel good, but to be able to go full speed on every single rep without getting tired or fatigued or like I'm losing speed or explosiveness throughout the entire game, I can't tell you where it is right now, but I know it's not where I want it to be.
So much of the attention is on the physical part of the recovery. What about the other side of that? Do you remember your mindset in that moment you went down?
The thought process goes through your head. I mean, you hear what kind of injury you had and surgery you had. I came out of the room thinking I just got scoped and that they were trying to figure out what it was. They told me I had cartilage damage that needed microfracture surgery. Once you hear that, you look it up and see the statistics and how not everybody fully recovers from this kind of surgery.
That right there, if that doesn't hit home, especially being my first year as a professional athlete, I haven't even seen the field yet and suddenly I might not ever be the same athlete as I was. In this game and where I'm the most confident is where I can create a mismatch because of how big and athletic I am. So it definitely challenged me mentally.
At the same time, it pushed me to be that other percentage that did get back to full strength, to full athleticism, to come back. There are some Pro Bowlers -- I won't name them all -- but they've had this kind of surgery and ended up being Pro Bowlers and having a great career. All those names have been disclosed to me. But right now I feel like I'm on the right track going into it. At the time, it definitely was challenging to be sitting out for that long and being off of my knee for that long and not training my legs and really being an all-around athlete.
Really, I'm not just out here playing football. I love all different types of sports in my free time, just going out and competing in general. But I got through all the hard stages and now the fun stage is to go out there and perform.
What do you learn about yourself in that process?
I've had injuries before, so I think that helped me a lot. In college, when I had injuries, I couldn't always perform at my peak. I couldn't always be on the field and be training or working toward my goal. So that kind of got me set in the right mood. I've been able to come back from all of those. The type of person I am, I'm going to come in and give it my all. My father sent me a text in college that said, 'It doesn't matter what happens to you. You can't keep a Kelce down.' I hold my name with pride because of that.
I wanted to talk about the roster and position group you're a part of. You guys just recently lost Sean McGrath. How surprising was that when he retired?
Very surprised. I don't think there was a single person in this locker room that wasn't surprised. I wish him the best of luck. He's always going to be a brother to me. He's a great guy and an awesome football player to have around. Nobody was expecting it though. It was something he had personally ... I don't like to go into why he did it. I'll let him explain all of that. But you have to respect the man for what he did and all of the effort and time he put in while he was here. Everyone here respects him.
Anthony Fasano is clearly the most experienced at the position and you're working alongside him. What do you learn from him in your first year?
It's like having another coach out there. The guy's knowledge and understanding of defenses, leverage, formation, techniques, he's been around for a while and he has the type of mind that he just gets it. He gets the psychological aspect of it, the technique, the fundamentals, the physics that go into blocking or route running or where you have to be and timing with the quarterback. He understands it all. Every chance I get, I always ask him a certain question of how to do something and he always has the answer for me. He's definitely made me a better player since I've been here.
How does the competition level feel at the position?
We all push each other to be perfect. There's competition throughout the entire team, not just at the tight end position. We're all pushing each other to be great. Specifically at tight end, we've got some guys that know how to play. We've got some athletes, some veteran guys who can really grind it out. We love to have fun with what we do, and you can tell all of the guys in the room love playing the game of football.
It just came out that Dwayne Bowe was suspended for the first game of the season. How does that affect you and what you're trying to do?
Well, it's an unfortunate situation, obviously. We'd love to have Bowe out there. At the same time, we're a team and we have to go out there and play the game regardless of who's sitting out or who's in. We have to come out with a victory. Everyone is accountable every single week. Whoever is out there is going to get the pressure of the trust and accountability of the guys they're playing with. That's just how you have to take it week by week, whether someone is injured or suspended or whatever it is. We just have to go out there and play no matter who is out there.
Was that a surprise as well?
It was a surprise to me. I thought the situation was over with.
I'm looking at the success that Vernon Davis had when Alex Smith was at the helm with the 49ers. How much of that have you looked at?
I've heard about it. I've watched all of the tight ends in the league. I love to look at how they approach the game, how they succeed. That's just something I do in watching film is to see what the opponents or others are doing. But I really haven't looked at how I can fill the role of Vernon Davis in this offense. The offense is completely different. The way they use Vernon is completely different. Vernon's attributes are completely different than mine. [Laughs] I mean, I think the guy ran a 4.3 coming out of college or something like that. The guy's one of those pure pound-for-pound athletes we have in the NFL. It's just a different situation, that's for sure.
Expectations for this first year on the field?
Expectations are just to go out there and give a thousand percent. To be accountable for every aspect of the game. When I go out there, I have a job to do. As long as I do that job to the fullest of my capabilities and the success of my team, I'll have no regrets. It's just about going out there and filling the role of this team.