ST. JOSEPH, Mo. —There's no worse feeling for an athlete than to be left at home while the rest of his teammates play a road game.
Chiefs rookie tight end Tony Moeaki learned that the hard way last weekend when he missed the preseason opener at Atlanta because of injury. He hung around St. Joseph, rehabbed, stared at his playbook, studied practice tapes, watched the game on television and waited for his chance.
That will come on Saturday night at Tampa Bay, and after a full week of practice, Moeaki hopes to not only be productive in the game but prove that he can stay healthy.
"I'm good to go," said Moeaki, a third-round draft pick from Iowa. "The injuries I've had are mostly in the past and behind me. They happen every once in a while, so I'm not worried about it."
Moeaki's litany of injuries began in his third year at Iowa. He started the first four games, making 14 catches, including three touchdowns, before dislocating his left elbow and fracturing a bone in his hand against Wisconsin.
Moeaki was granted a medical redshirt but a foot injury led to a calf problem in 2008. He also missed time because of a concussion that season, limiting him to just nine games and only one start, though it was a good one — 13 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown in the Outback Bowl.
An ankle injury sidelined him for three games in 2009, but Moeaki still caught a career-best 30 passes for 387 yards and four touchdowns as a senior.
"He is arguably the best athlete I've ever witnessed in person and played with," Iowa receiver Darrell Johnson-Koulianos told reporters after Moeaki, still playing on a bum ankle, caught six passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan last season.
"The thing about Tony, he has all the talent in the world, but what sets him apart from everyone else is his ability to work hard and hone in on the details and fundamentals of the game. People just think Tony's a great athlete, his size, height, speed, strength, everything, but he works so hard to be good. At the same time, you have to respect him for his mental state. He's battled a lot of injuries."
So it may not have been a surprise when Moeaki, who's 6-feet-3 and 252 pounds, suffered an undisclosed injury during the Chiefs' scrimmage two weeks ago. But this week, he's played some with the first unit, and his hauling in a 70-yard bomb on a deep post from Matt Cassel was the highlight of Wednesday night's practice.
"Matt threw a great pass down the middle," Moeaki said. "I'm just trying to do what I'm supposed to do and take care of my job on the play."
It didn't come as a surprise to Chiefs tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee.
"We're happy to have him out there," Parmalee said. "He's a smart player, he's a tough-nosed kid. Him coming in as a rookie added to the mix... when you've got smart players who are tough and have a good feel for the game, it's a bonus. He has those things."
Chiefs coach Todd Haley wants to see more.
"He's a young developing player who showed a lot of promise out of the gate," Haley said. "A player we were excited about... then he was not on the field.
"One play isn't going to do it for me. I want dependable guys who are out on the field every day who are the same guy everyday. Right now, he's fought his way back, it appears, and he was able to make a couple of plays."
Moeaki's progress is critical to the development of the Chiefs offense. Veteran Leonard Pope, who caught 20 passes in 13 games last season, has had drops on the practice field and in the first preseason game. Jake O'Connell also dropped an easy ball in the Chiefs' scrimmage two weeks ago and caught just two passes for seven yards in four games last season.
That's a long way from the days of Tony Gonzalez averaging 76 catches a season.
But this offense has produced its share of productive tight ends, including Benjamin Watson, who averaged 33 receptions and four touchdowns a season for New England during 2005-09.
"I definitely think this system can be very tight end friendly as proven over the years," Haley said. "The hard part is having the guy or the types of guys you want. The Ben Coates and Kyle Bradys or those type guys don't necessarily come along all the time.
"It's a very important position for us as an offense in the run game and the pass game. We have to get everybody out there so we can continue to progress."