Converted college tight end Blake Mack catching on as receiver

Jul 29, 2018; St. Joseph, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Blake Mack (88) runs drills during training camp at Missouri Western State University.© Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Mack impressing coaches, teammates with ball skills in bid to make the roster

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Blake Mack stood out from the moment he took the field at the Chiefs' rookie minicamp in May, with the undrafted free agent from Arkansas State catching what seemed like every pass thrown his way.

“The best part of my game is my physicality and my separation and my ball skills,” Mack said. “I try to make that an important part. You're nothing without the ball. I try to take care of the baby.”

Mack started his college stint at Arkansas State as a receiver and caught 14 passes for 135 yards during his first two seasons for the Red Wolves. But between his sophomore and junior seasons, Mack transitioned to tight end, bulking up 35 pounds by his senior season.

The newly minted 6-foot-2, 235-pound target turned into a prolific pass catcher at tight end. Mack caught 82 passes for 1,270 yards and 10 touchdowns his last two seasons. He often played split out from the line, serving as the team's prime target in the slot on third downs.

Mack talked to plenty of NFL scouts about playing tight end but no one mentioned a position change. But when he signed with the Chiefs, they immediately lined him up with their receivers group.

“I kind of knew it might come at some point, so I just stayed prepared to play either one,” Mack said.

At 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, Mack is a bit undersized as an NFL tight end. None of the team's current tight ends are smaller than 6-foot-4. But could Mack make the move from college tight end to wide receiver?

“When he first came in we obviously saw the raw talent,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “The kid is big, he's strong, he can go up and catch it.”

Mack would have ranked as the team's smallest tight end but instead weighs as the team's heaviest receiver.

“I'm playing right now only four pounds lighter than I played tight end as my senior year in college,” Mack said. “So I kind of feel lighter, faster.”

His size and ball skills prompt comparisons to Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl hero Trey Burton. He signed a four-year, $32 million free agent deal with the Chicago Bears in the offseason. He and Burton share almost identical size, and Mack hears the comparison often.

“I'm better,” Mack confidently boasted with a grin on his face. “I can do better.”

To achieve that goal, Mack finds himself shadowing receivers Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill and Chris Conley learning his new role.

“I try to pick up a little between all three of them just kind of becoming me and perfect my craft,” Mack said.

Conley describes Mack as a big receiver who's still learning that he's a big receiver.

“He's kind of getting the opportunity to use some of those physical tools out in space,” Conley said.“It's different when you're in there at tight end. Travis (Kelce) is a hybrid he can play outside, he can play like a receiver. Blake has to learn to do that.”

There's much to adjust to in the NFL, but Mack is fortunate to have a college friend along for the ride. The Chiefs also signed his Red Wolves teammate Dee Liner, a defensive lineman and fellow undrafted free agent. Having Liner in training camp helps ease the transition.

“Dee's always been the clown of the group with me,” Mack said. “Bringing him here has kind of gave us both some comfort. We also room right across the hall from each other so we knock on each other's door. It's a lot of comfort, it's good he's here.”

Mack admits the vaunted playbook of head coach Andy Reid intimidated him at first, but now he finds himself understanding the details and nuances of the offense.

“It's a lot of stuff so it's been really tough but now I'm getting the gist of things,” he said. “It's becoming second nature, it's coming along.”

Bieniemy said he sees that comfort with the offense translating to the practice field.

“I've noticed that confidence has started building,” Bieniemy said. “The light has turned on, everything is starting to click. The kid is doing a good job.”

Conley sees the same transformation occurring.

“He has to learn to use that space, when to be subtle, when to be physical and he's starting to pick some of those things up and it's translating into plays,” Conley said.

Mack stands as one of the more intriguing players to watch during Thursday's opening preseason game against the Houston Texans. He should get opportunities with the second and third teams offenses seeing most of the playing time. Bieniemy wants to see Mack build on the gains he's made during the last week in training camp.

“He's focusing, he's listening, the details are starting to click and we're watching him do some good things right now,” Bieniemy said. “We want him to continue in the upward trend.”

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