ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — After playing the first five years of his NFL career in New York or the San Francisco Bay Area, tight end Kevin Boss was looking to play in a smaller town when he became a free agent in the spring.
But what really led Boss to sign with the Chiefs were their plans to make liberal use of their tight ends.
“It’s a tight end-friendly offense,” Boss said. “Anytime we can get two tight ends on the field, it’s definitely tight end-friendly. It’s going to be a fun season.”
By signing Boss to join Tony Moeaki, who is returning after missing all of last season because of a knee injury, the Chiefs are joining the trend of NFL teams that load up on pass-catching tight ends. Eight teams last season had two tight ends with 25 or more receptions.
The Chiefs suffered at the position last year without Moeaki. Their leading pass catcher at tight end was the since-departed Leonard Pope, who caught 24 throws. In total, their three tight ends caught just 34 passes.
Through recent history, Moeaki, who had 47 catches as a rookie, has been the Chiefs’ only prolific pass receiver at tight end. Before that, Tony Gonzalez was always among the leading pass receivers at tight end, but the Chiefs would usually pair him with a blocking tight end rather than a skilled pass receiver.
This year, Boss and Moeaki won’t get to the numbers posted last season by New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who combined for 169 catches and 24 touchdowns. But from the looks at things at camp, the Chiefs have plans for both players.
Often, it includes both players in the lineup at the same time.
“When I was a rookie, I was all over the place,” Moeaki said. “I was in the slot, I was in the backfield, I was at tight end. That’s pretty much what I’m doing now so for me, I think it will be pretty similar.”
Mindful of what happened last season after they lost Moeaki, the Chiefs needed another tight end as insurance in case of another injury. But they’re looking at Boss as a lot more than injury insurance.
Having two tight ends in the same lineup can cause problems for an opposing defense. So the Chiefs moved quickly to sign Boss after he was released by Oakland.
“It was a big priority, as it turned out,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. “Boss becoming available was a surprise, and I think he will be very beneficial to us. Tony coming back is good and so having that combination can pose a lot of problems for a defense.
”From a defensive standpoint … you have to decide, do you want to play your regular defense versus those guys or do you want to play your (passing) defense (with extra defensive backs) versus that group. If you put your regular defense out there, they’ll probably throw it a little bit more. If you put your sub out there, they’ll probably run it a little bit more. That’s the dilemma that you face.“
Boss played his first four seasons with the Giants before moving on to the Raiders last year. Except for his rookie season in 2007, Boss has always been his team’s leading receiver at tight end.
His best season was in 2009, when he caught 42 passes and scored five touchdowns.
”We’re going to have to do it all,“ Boss said. ”They want us to pass-block, they want us to run-block and they want us to catch the ball. Those are things that tight ends need to do. We’re able to get two of us on the field at the same time, and that makes things exciting for us.“
The Chiefs have struggled for several years to put together a complete set of top offensive skill players. This year, after adding Boss and running back Peyton Hillis, might be their best effort, particularly if unsigned wide receiver Dwayne Bowe reports to camp.
”There’s no doubt that this is the best personnel group we’ve had since we’ve been here in Kansas City,“ said quarterback Matt Cassel, who joined the Chiefs in 2009. ”Now it’s just about us coming together as an offensive unit. You never know until you get out there how you are going to mesh as a unit. I think we are moving in the right direction and making progress every day.
“Anytime you have two tight ends that do different things, it definitely gives you some versatility from an offensive standpoint and also from a personnel standpoint. Both of those guys have been doing a great job in the passing game, but also the big thing for us is being able to run the ball, and we’ve been doing a really good job with that as well.”