Posted: 8:05 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Bengals tight ends coach Jon Hayes has been coaching Chase Coffman for two months but he's known for two decades that he's tough enough to block.
Back when Hayes lived in Kansas City, he had a birthday party at his mini indoor arena and one of those invited was the little son of Paul Coffman, his old teammate and tight ends partner on the Chiefs. Welcome to "Mutton Bustin," where little kids rode sheep instead of bulls.
"He couldn't have been more than four or five years old and he was showing no fear," Hayes said Tuesday. "Trust me, he's tough enough."
Still in Kansas City, Paul Coffman also had no doubts on Tuesday.
"If anyone can teach Chase to block, it's Jonathan," Coffman said. "Jon's the best blocker I've ever seen. Those big, long arms. He was the guy we looked to. He was ahead of his time when it came to blocking."
As thunderstorms of Biblical proportions swamped Georgetown College to wipe out Tuesday afternoon's practice, toughness and blocking were the passwords on a day the Bengals mourned the season-ending loss of tight end Reggie Kelly. If Kelly was the linchpin of the Bengals spiritual community, he was also offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's secret weapon against quirky pass-rushing defenses because his strength, tenacity and technique short-circuited many matchup problems.
As head coach Marvin Lewis observed in his impromptu rainy day news conference, his offensive coaches are dealing with more than the loss of a player: "They have to replace not only Reggie's snaps, but his influence on what we do."
At least the transition with the offensive line began the day back in February when right tackle Stacy Andrews signed with the Eagles, the day that sealed Cincinnati's fate in the upcoming draft.
But the sea of change at tight end came at the snap of a tendon. Since 1993, Tony McGee and Kelly have started all but 20 games for the Bengals at tight end.
Hayes isn't looking to rush Coffman and he doesn't think he has to because of Ben Utecht and Daniel Coats.
Utecht is a proven NFL pass catcher coming off an injury-riddled season and Coats is the 6-3, 264-pound tight end who had to play fullback for the first time in his life last year. Now in his third season, Coats is back at tight end and Hayes says he's playing with a great deal of confidence because his comfort level is so much higher compared to his first two seasons.
Coats is the guy that will probably have to do the bulk of the dirty work that Kelly did so well. Hayes told him Monday as the shock wore through camp, "Dan, you're going to take a lot of that load Reggie once had. You have to be able to do that."
"Everyone forgets we got Reggie when he had four years under his belt," Hayes said. "Dan is just in his third year, only his second at tight end. Right now I feel good about where Dan is. I feel very good about it. We're fortunate to have him."
Hayes sees Coats' strength and power taking pressure off Utecht and Coffman, both known as receiving tight ends.
"Ben will be fine. We've just got to make sure we're smart and make sure Ben gets to the starting line. I don't want to wear him down," Hayes said. "He's not built like Reggie. He's a more linear guy. The things that didn't bother Reggie, I don't want to hamper Ben. That's why where Dan fits in so well is with his bulk and strength. That will take pressure off Ben, allow a guy (Coats) that is suited to do those things to shine, and help bring Chase along and just not throw him to the wolves."
But Coffman's name is the one that surfaces. That will happen when you're a current third-round pick as well as the NCAA's all-time receptions leader among tight ends even though you've never played in a system in which you've been asked put your hand on the ground and block.
That doesn't bother Hayes and Paul Coffman because they played through it all during a time when Chase Coffman says, "tight ends had to do it all."
"They could have said the same thing about me at Iowa," said Hayes, who parlayed blocking into 12 seasons in the NFL for 13 touchdown catches. "The tight ends stood up at Iowa for Coach (Hayden) Fry even though we were in line."
"Blocking is an attitude and Chase wants to do it," said Paul Coffman, who went to three Pro Bowls in the early '80s for Green Bay on the way to 42 touchdown catches and still remembers some of his peers. "Kellen Winslow could have been a great blocker, but Kellen never wanted to block. Todd Christensen could have been a great blocker, but he barely got in the way.
"It's all want to. It's going to take time and the neck is going to get jammed because you're blocking defensive ends. It took Tony Gonzalez time but he's turned into one of the top blockers for a tight end."
But Coffman is clearly a different kind of player than Kelly. Heck, he's a different player than his dad. He can become an elite NFL receiver. "Paul is nowhere near the athlete Chase is," Hayes said and Paul can only agree.
"He can run, he can catch, he'll get mismatches for you," Paul Coffman said. "But he'll also end up blocking. He's heard all the stories. He knows what it takes. He knows I'd go to work thinking it could have been my last day."
Paul was a free agent out of Kansas State and that first pro practice he remembers dropping five pounds to 212 and thinking he was gone. At St. Norbert College, the fabled Packers training camp, Paul Coffman still remembers how The Turk would sit with his list of cuts outside one of the doors where the players would go into eat.
"At lunch, we'd make sure we'd go in and out of the same door," Paul Coffman said, "so if we ate lunch we wouldn't get sick to our stomach."
Bratkowski calls Paul Coffman "one of the great workers" in the game and it is said the kid has the same work ethic. His father works out high school and college athletes now even as he works as a salesman. Chase has already caught a TD from a Carson in high school, his brother who is the starter at Kansas State. His sister has a full ride for volleyball at the University of Wyoming. People just assume Paul's wife was a college athlete so now they've just gone along with the rumors Amy was a Div. 1 volleyball player to make it easier on everyone.
"They're nice kids and they get their niceness from their mother," Paul Coffman said.
Chase Coffman likes the work-ethic comparisons to his dad. He can't wait for the season's second game in Green Bay Sept. 20, which is Alumni Weekend for the Packers Hall of Fame.
"My family already has their airline tickets paid and they'll be able to see me," said Chase, who remembers taking the tour when he was small.
"I've already talked to Zeke Bratkowski," said Paul Coffman of Bob Bratkowski's father. "He asked me if I thought anybody would mind if we snuck over to the Bengals sideline."
The challenge is even bigger for the young bronco to buck. Catch like his dad and block like his friend.
"Then," Chase Coffman said, "That would be the tight end everybody wants."