KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris returned to the practice field Sunday and Monday, marking his first football activity since Week 10 of the 2014 season.
Harris practiced in shells Sunday, full pads Monday and the Chiefs are expected to ease him back to action.
“Obviously from our standpoint, it’s great to have him back and to see him back out on the field,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “But really for him to kind of get himself back in football shape right now is kind of the expectation we have going forward.”
The Chiefs are happy to have Harris back on the field, but a realistic timetable on his return to full form won’t come immediately.
“He’s run routes, he’s done some things that way,” Pederson said. “But it’s one thing routes on air versus bodies on defenses and making those transitions that way. It’s going to take some time and we can’t rush him back, either. We got to continue to monitor that progress as we go.
Harris, who admits he felt a “little sluggish” Sunday, suffered a season-ending fractured right foot innocently enough during pregame warm-ups against the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 9.
And he immediately knew something was wrong.
“I was simply running a stick, an out route, I just felt it pop,” Harris said. “After that, I just felt weird. I ran a go after that and I was just saying, ‘I can’t go,’ because I couldn’t walk no more. I mean, I was walking, but it was pain.”
Harris originally underwent surgery on Nov. 12, and finished the season appearing in eight games with three starts, totaling three catches for 20 yardss.
His return nine months later, however, didn’t go smoothly.
Harris felt he was ready for organized team activates, but suffered two setbacks when a coach noticed he wasn’t “running right.”
“He recommended I get another surgery, so I had to get another one,” Harris said of his early May procedure. “Then I got another setback when I got staph in my foot. That was another setback – two weeks after my surgery.”
Harris, who missed all of organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, said the original timetable following the second surgery was three months, which coincided with the start of training camp.
The staph infection delayed his return.
“We caught it in plenty of time,” head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder said. “It was superficial in nature, so it didn’t get down his surgical site.”
Burkholder said the Chiefs put Harris in the hospital in order to run IVs to prevent the infection from entering the surgical site.
“It was something he had to overcome,” Burkholder said. “It backed him up probably a couple of weeks in rehab because we wanted to make sure he wasn’t sweating into the wound. It was a setback, but it wasn’t like he had a staph infection in his surgical site. It was just at the incision, but it wasn’t down at the hardware.”
The 6-foot-7 Harris, whom the Chiefs list at 230 pounds, said he currently weighs 265 pounds, but wants to be between 252 to 257 pounds.
The practices in the heat may help him achieve that goal.
“I lost eight (pounds) yesterday just from running,” Harris joked. “I lose weight fast.”
Pederson doesn’t know if Harris will play in Thursday night’s preseason finale, but Harris wouldn’t mind hitting the field for live action.
“I’m preparing to play, so hopefully I’ll play and get back in the rhythm of things,” Harris said. “Hopefully this week, get in the rhythm of things, get reps today. I mean, I’m just trying to get in a rhythm.”
The return of Harris offers another piece for the Chiefs to consider in utilizing the three-tight end set, a personnel grouping that enjoyed success in 2014 before Harris went down.
The Chiefs now have Harris, Travis Kelce, rookie James O’Shaughnessy, Richard Gordon and Ryan Taylor, and Pederson believes the current roster boasts the right personnel for that specific personnel grouping.
“Going forward I think looking where we’re at,” Pederson said, “we’re blessed to have three or four guys now to kind of get that package back for us on offense.”