Travis Kelce on Eric Bieniemy, Eric Berry’s release and more

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs is tackled by Jonathan Jones #31 of the New England Patriots in the first half during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs is tackled by Jonathan Jones #31 of the New England Patriots in the first half during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Travis Kelce spoke with editor Matt Conner about a wide range of topics—from his love of dogs to watching veterans leave to the team’s most underrated hero.

Travis Kelce insists the best is yet to come.

A few months after setting not only franchise records but an NFL record as well, Travis Kelce looks back and grimaces at parts of last year’s stellar offensive performance. The Kansas City Chiefs as a whole put up historic numbers, and Kelce himself set all-time marks for the team and league in receptions (only to be passed by George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers in the same year), but Kelce is convinced the best is yet to come.

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“I haven’t played my best football,” Kelce said in a one-on-one interview on Wednesday. “That’s what you strive for game in and game out, weekly through our practices, being able to strive for a perfect game for your top performance. You’re not only striving for that, but you’re also trying to be a consistent talent on the field every day and being there for my teammates while doing it.

“We talk in the building about being accountable, whether you’re in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship or whether you’re at practice in the second week of training camp and you’re building to get to that opportunity. There’s a certain demand of excellence that you have to have upon yourself.”

For Kelce, that excellence means working on the details that separate him from the rest of the league. Given that Kelce is already widely known as the very best at his position, a guy who is a potential Hall of Fame candidate if he keeps up his current productive streak, that’s bad news for opposing defenses. That push for excellence is also something Kelce says encapsulates his life off the field as well.

“I’m my worst critic,” he said. “I don’t think I played my best football last year. It might have been statistically the best year that I’ve had, but there are a lot of things I left out on that field. Maybe I don’t wish I could have them back, but I’ve learned from them. I can play better because of that.

“That’s just the mentality I’ve had at life and being able to not only adapt to certain situations in the right manner, but to also progress as a human being, as an athlete, as a friend and man in this world. It’s non-stop, always wanting to get better and be a better person through and through. There’s never a perfect play. Even if you strive for it, there’s always something you can do better and have more attention to detail. There’s so much detail that goes into being professional at anything. With any profession, you can nitpick any detail about your work, about your art, about your craft. I think that’s what makes some guys really special.”

Kelce says this next year is about getting better in terms of the details that no one notices and the less sexy parts of the game, like his ability to be a blocking asset in the running game.

“I love watching film on other guys like Zach Ertz or George Kittle, before it was Tony Gonzalez and even Gronk,” said Kelce. “I’ve been watching these guys my entire career trying to figure out how they do this or that and then turn into my own, to be my own artist in my own right and still get the same success out of what we’re running and trying to do for the guys around me.

“To pinpoint what I think I can really get better at, one is my concentration on catching the ball. I had way too many drops this year,” he continued. “That comes with more and more reps I get with Pat [Mahomes], since he does have unique way of throwing the ball, and just concentrating non-stop all the way into the catch instead of where I’m going next with the ball. I was able to do that with Alex [Smith] since I was with him for so many years.

“Effort in run blocking could be 10 times better than what I’ve shown this last year. It’s also just learning to do the right things on the field, learning to step this way or that way in my routes will free me up and give Pat a better throw. It’s the little things like that.”

Kelce’s commitment to perfecting his craft is an ideal posture for someone serving as an elder statesman at this point. He’s already a natural leader as one of the team’s most recognizable stars, but he’s also earned his influence with his consistent production and workmanlike focus. With longtime leaders like safety Eric Berry and pass rusher Justin Houston now in other places, Kelce knows he has a bigger role to step into.

“In terms of familiar faces, I think there’s only three left in the building in terms of players since I got here—me being one of them,” said Kelce. “But I’m a people person. That means when I get into a locker room, I’m a teammates kind of guy. I’m in it for the team. I’m in it to build a relationship and chemistry with the guys around me, with the people around me, and that goes hand in hand with the community.

“We’ve got a whole new face on the defensive side, both players and coaches,” he continued. “The energy they’ve been bringing throughout the OTAs gives us even more confidence and more of an edge than what we may have had last year. Not to take anything away from what we did last year. I think those guys on that side of the ball busted their tails every single day.

“You know what, sometimes unfortunately this is a business and it hits coaches and players. All I can do is just trust the management, what Brett Veach and coach Andy Reid are doing in the front office, and just go out there and play for the guys next to me.”

Kelce isn’t one to shy away from the attention that comes with being such a charismatic leader. In fact, he leans into it. But he’s also quick to give credit to those who have helped him. Specifically, he says that the one name that doesn’t receive enough credit around Arrowhead is the one coordinating the offense for Kelce, Patrick Mahomes and the rest under Andy Reid: Eric Bieniemy.

“One guy who doesn’t get enough credit is Eric Bieniemy,” said Kelce. “The mindset that he gives this team… if you look at the running backs every single year, if something happens, they are prepared. They are ready. Coach Deland [McCullough] has taken on the role of trying to fill Coach Bieniemy’s shoes in that running back room, but as much as he’s now the offensive coordinator, he’s still very connected in that room and what he expects in that room.

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“I think last year was a great example of that. Not to speak of what happened, because everyone knows, but Damien Williams was ready to come in. A lot of that has to do with Damien Williams being prepared for that opportunity and beign ready to make plays. He was an undercover hero toward the end of the year last year as well, but if you want to talk about a guy since I’ve been here who doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves, I think Eric Bieniemy is that guy. Every single year, he holds the expectations and demands people to meet those expectations. I think that’s helped our team unbelievably in terms of progression.”