Travis Kelce, aka ‘Zeus,’ gives Chiefs powerful punch at tight end

Travis Kelce

DECEMBER 2015 – If you don’t have a Gronk, what’s the next best thing?  Zeus! “Zeus” the nickname of Travis Kelce hints at his flamboyant personality, but on the field he is a steady performer.

It is taking care of the “small things” which has propelled Travis Kelce near the top of NFL tight ends.

“Every single day, every single week, I’m trying to get better at the small things,” he said.  “That’s probably the biggest thing that I learned from (former Chiefs tight end Anthony) Fasano.  Coming out here and detailing my work and just becoming better and better every single day on the small things.”

Kelce’s improvement on the details puts him among the elite tight ends in the NFL.  Through 11 games, he is fourth in the league in receptions (54) and yards (698), and fifth in targets (76).  He is on pace for 80 catches and almost 1,000 yards.  If he is able to reach those marks he’d be the Chiefs first 1000-yard receiver since Dwayne Bowe in 2011, and the first tight end since 2008 when Tony Gonzalez had 1,058 in his final season in Kansas City.

Teams are beginning to pay more attention to Kelce.

“(Buffalo) doubled him, bracketed him,” coach Andy Reid said. “They were playing for him in this game on a number of occasions there. A couple of (other teams) had (concentrated on defending Kelce), but this was probably a little more pronounced.”

It is fitting Travis Kelce is chasing Gonzalez’s marks. Kelce is a big fan of the future Hall-of-Famer and has begun studying his game film.

“I’ve watched countless amounts of film,” Kelce said. “That guy was an athletic guru. He was head over heels more athletic than anybody else on the field. You could tell he understood defenses.”

Gonzalez reciprocates with high praise for Kelce.

“If he keeps his head on straight, he could go down as one of the best,” he said. “He really can. The sky’s the limit on how good he could be. He’s still young and he’s only going to get better.”

With 1,482 career yards on 117 receptions and eight touchdowns through his first 27 games, Kelce is actually well ahead of the early pace by Gonzalez, who had just 68 catches for 724 yards and two TDs at the same point in his career.

Gonzalez believes Travis Kelce has attributes that he didn’t.

“You look at his size and he can run like the wind,” Gonzalez said.  “He’s a mismatch nightmare, but I think what really stands out with him, and what I like most about his game, is his run after the catch.

“I think it’s the best in the league.  He’s one of those guys – and this is something I could never do – he’ll catch the ball at five or six yards, then turn it up and go 25, 30 yards running through people or just making guys miss.  That’s what really stands out to me.”

Kelce is seventh overall in the NFL in yards after catch) at 378, just 21 yards behind tight end leader Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski of the New England Patriots.

Watching film has helped him learn how to take advantage of his size.

“I know if I get stuck in a certain situation I can use my physicality and use my feet better and use my leverage,” he said. “It’s just something that I’ve become accustomed to is just to find out creatively, finding creative ways to work fundamentals into instincts because that’s really all fundamentals are, the ability to use the fundamentals that you do every single day.”

The Chiefs have always admired the physical traits of Kelce, a 2013 third-round draft pick out Cincinnati.

“He’s tremendously talented, loves to play the game,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.  “He’s like a little kid out there.”

They’ve also been pleased with his progress in the mental side of the game.

“You could see the progress every week (last year),” Reid said. “We kept adding to his menu, plays that we wanted to dial up and formations and motions.  He continually got better with that as time went on.”

Kelce attributes the progress to aligning with the Chiefs offensive mindset.

“My main focus going into training camp was to understand the intentions of the play call,” he said. “I want to understand what (quarterback) Alex (Smith) is thinking.  I want to understand why coach Reid is calling certain plays.  I want to mentally put it all together and become a team player.”

So far, so good.  Through 10 games, Kelce leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.  He was also the team leader in all three categories last year.

He expressed leadership in training camp when he stuck his head into a quarterbacks meeting and asked for the ball more.  That was just a bit of the brash side of Zeus coming out, something Chiefs fans saw when he delivered a “Fist of Zeus” punch to the football after scoring a touchdown in the season-opening triumph over Houston.

The play went viral after Kelce explained the move was inspired by the Donkey Kong video game.

“I got the actual move from ‘Super Mario Smash Bros.,” he said.  “’Donkey Kong’ was the original; he had the original ‘Fist of Zeus’.”

Ultimately, it’s about winning, and the Chiefs are 6-1 when Kelce scores a touchdown.  He has high expectations, which include returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

“Obviously, that’s our goal, to win the Super Bowl,” he said.  “That’s why we’re here. That’s why we work every single day. In my mind, the sky’s the limit.

“That is just the confidence that I have in the players, the team that we’ve been able to put together.  I think we can go ahead and have one heck of an outstanding season.  Whether that’s me putting up big numbers, average numbers or whatever statistics that you want to throw out there, I think this is going to be one heck of a team going forward.”

Kelce sees the Chiefs brewing with confidence.

“I think we have a lot more confidence (than last year), a lot more knowing of what we’re capable of,” he said. “Last year I think it was kind of a mystery, especially after the first two games when we had two of our defensive guys go down.

“I think there’s a lot more confidence in who we are and what we can be and a lot more focus on staying on the track and doing the right things, week by week.”

Kelce attributes the confidence to the players becoming more familiar with each other.

“Being around each other, this being the third year this group’s been together,” he said.  “Learning the systems, learning the structure of how things are going, learning each other’s personalities and how we’re playing together on the field.  We’re going out there and really meshing together.  I think we’ve put together a pretty good foundation.”

The Chiefs, who enter December in the playoff hunt, finish the regular season with a pair of games at Arrowhead Stadium against AFC opponents, Dec. 27 vs. the San Diego Chargers and January 3 vs. the Oakland Raiders.

Article by Marc Bowman

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