For Chiefs players such as Derrick Johnson, Mike DeVito and Jeff Allen who missed nearly all of last season because of injuries, Monday’s first contact practice at training camp felt like a celebration.
For defensive lineman Mike Catapano, also returning after missing a year, the pad-popping session became a rush.
“I’ve been so excited, so revved up,” Catapano said. “This morning I was nervous, excited, felt every emotion in the book.”
It showed. A day earlier, Catapano spoke of his pent-up frustration saying he was “ready to unload.” Monday was a flurry of energy during the practice, which was moved indoors because of a storm threat.
Catapano’s was no ordinary injury or recovery process. At last year’s camp, Catapano missed the first couple of weeks, returned briefly and was out again, this time for good.
The problem as initially described as a non-football illness. Truth was, nobody was precisely sure what was ailing Catapano.
Finally, the diagnosis was revealed to be a gastrointestinal virus. While doctors were studying that issue, another was discovered. Catapano also had suffered a concussion. What would have been the second NFL season for Catapano, a seventh-round draft selection from Princeton, was over.
But Catapano’s dedication to reshaping his 6-foot-4, 270-pound body was beginning.
He understood his rare affliction came with a rare opportunity.
“I’d played football every year since I was 8,” he said. “This was the first year I didn’t play the game.”
It provided enough time to sculpt his body in a way that may not be possible in a typical offseason. He got leaner … and heavier, now weighing a protein bar north of 290.
The additional weight didn’t affect his speed or quickness.
“My frame was made to be this big,” he said. “Definitely. I don’t think you’re going to see too many 290s that look like me.
“With the time I had, I saw no reason why I couldn’t take my body to another level. I cranked everything up.”
By everything, Catapano is talking about weights, conditioning, nutrition and every other factor that built his body. Tying it together was discipline. He trained with a purpose.
“It hurt not to play last year, and I used that pain to take the next step with my mind, body and soul,” Catapano said. “Every misfortune has a blessing on the other side of it; you can’t focus on the negative side of it. You have to turn every negative into a positive.”
Once thought of as an outside linebacker because of his size, Catapano showed an aptitude for pass rushing that turned heads as he prepared for his first NFL season. As a rookie mostly playing the five-technique defensive end spot behind DeVito, Catapano was in on about 80 snaps in pass-rushing situations and finished with one sack, three solo tackles and three quarterback hurries.
Monday, when the Chiefs lined up in passing situations, Catapano got snaps as a down pass rusher in Dontari Poe’s place. Poe is out for an indefinite period because of a back injury.
“The whole group has got to pick up the slack,” for Poe, Catapano said. “He’s our leader; he’s our guy. So we’ve all got to come together as a group and fill in the void.”
Catapano brought superb technique and attitude to the job as a rookie. Now, Catapano brings size, and he admittedly wears it well.
“I went from a caterpillar to a butterfly,” Catapano said.
One on the heavier side.
“I think I’m the leanest, meanest 290 in the NFL right now.”