About a week prior to the NFL Draft, Brad Cottam's life took a very interesting turn.
As the Kansas City Chiefs finalized the trade of Tony Gonzalez to the Atlanta Falcons, Cottam unofficially became the team's starting tight end, just a few months after completing his rookie season in the NFL. The 6-foot-7, 269-pound player out of the University of Tennessee told me this week that he had mixed feelings when he heard the news.
"You know, really I was thinking this is awesome for me. I can tell you I wasn't happy to see him go because he's really taught me a whole lot, and I'm sure I would have learned more from him this year," Cottam said. "But you always want to be the number one guy. It's always hard playing behind somebody. I just saw it as a huge opportunity and the door opening for me."
Although he only caught seven passes during his NFL debut season, Cottam gained plenty of experience during seven starts that will serve him well as he fends off challengers who are below him on the depth chart. And he's a mature, focused individual who should quickly gain the respect of new head coach Todd Haley.
I spent a few minutes talking with Cottam this week, who told me he had just recently bought an eight-week old Great Dane puppy that he's named Doc Holiday.
Ed Thompson: Let's talk for a minute about this new puppy. Why did you decide to pick a Great Dane as your new pet?
Brad Cottam: I've known for a while it's what I wanted. They're so big, and basically look like mini-horses. It was just a good fit for me. The more I read about how friendly they are, and they're pretty calm once they grow up. Not right now as a puppy though, he's crazy! I ended up finding a breeder in Tennessee and I was there this weekend. I had to go pick him up and brought him back. He slept for about three hours and played for about one. He was going crazy when he was playing. A lot of people want them to stay puppies forever, but I'm ready for him to grow up. He's supposed to be about 170 pounds, which is bigger than a lot of my non-football friends.
Thompson: (laughs) As you look back on that first year with Tony, what do you think is the most valuable lesson that he taught you as a rookie?
Cottam: I would say hard work and footwork are the biggest things. I think hard work is such a simple thing that people overlook. It's kind of a cliché thing to say, but that's really what he did. When he wasn't out doing a rip on the field, he was on the side catching the ball. He was always working. For as long as he's played, you'd think he just "has it", but he works on it every single day -- little things like slowing it down and making sure you're doing it right rather than going all out and not doing it correctly.
Getty Images/Andy Lyons
Thompson: So what's going on out in Kansas City? Where are you guys in terms of your workout regimen and how's it been going so far?
Cottam: Right now we're in the meat of practice, in the middle of OTAs. We've actually got the next two days off from practice because we have mini-camp. I've been up here for almost two months now, just working out and running. The big change this year is we are running a whole lot more than I probably ever did at Tennessee, and definitely more than we did last year. I think that's one thing they're stressing is making sure we're not an overweight team. They're really working us hard. You come back from your workout everyday just worn out. Having new coaches, it's almost like being on a new team. Right now it's very, very business-like. It's a little bit more up-tempo. It's basically no nonsense, do your job, you're here to come to work and don't worry about anything else. Our offense is the same, but we've got a lot of people that need to get out there together and work on their chemistry.
Thompson: Last year you came in as a rookie, so I would imagine it's a whole different feeling this year other than the fact that you're also making that adjustment to a new coaching staff.
Cottam: Right. I think I was put in the perfect situation. I was behind Tony, I got to start seven games and then with him being traded in this offseason, right now it's kind of my position to lose. Last year, I was nervous coming in and didn't know what to expect. I remember I just wanted to get as heavy as I could because I thought that's what I needed to do to play in the NFL. This year I'm relaxed, I'm going in, working really hard and doing what I need to do. There are so many factors you can think about. Last year I was dealing with buying a house and figuring out where to live, getting to a new city and trying to make new friends. Now I'm settled in and I can really focus more on just the football aspect of things. I've really enjoyed this offseason. It makes it a completely different setting. I know it's different because we have new coaches, but I'm not worried about what we're going to do. I know what's going to happen, I'm used to the way things are going and how an NFL team runs, for the most part.
Thompson: You've also got a new quarterback to work with in Matt Cassel. What are you noticing already about Matt as a quarterback?
Cottam: He's doing a great job so far. He's come in and livened up the team. He's serious when he has to be, but he's really having a good time. You can just tell when people have the kind of personality about them that says they're a winner. We haven't done anything yet in terms of playing anybody, but it's just the feeling that we're around someone that's going to be good.
Thompson: So now you're in the number one spot and you're looking over your shoulder a little bit. Talk about the other tight ends that are in competition with you this year.
Cottam: As soon as Tony was traded we picked up two guys, Sean Ryan and Tony Curtis. They've both been playing for four or five years. Tony Curtis actually just started this week with his first couple of practices. Shawn's been out there and he's done a real good job. It's hard for me to see how he's been on so many different teams, because I think he's a really good player. We have two rookies that came in from Miami of Ohio and they're doing some really good things. You can tell all the rookies are a little bit nervous, they've just got to get everything down.
Thompson: You've still got a young team in Kansas City. Is there a lot of talk and excitement about you guys growing together in this league?
Cottam: Yeah, definitely. You know we feel like we're kind of starting over a little bit this year, but then there's also that aspect of we're not as young as we were last year. We've brought in a whole lot of veterans. They're bringing some leadership -- guys that have been around who know how to handle situations and who have been on winning teams. But, yeah, you can definitely tell it's a group that grows together the more time we spend together on the field and off the field. It's just a chemistry thing.
Thompson: Do you have anything fun planned after mini-camp? Are you going to do any traveling?
Cottam: I'm going to a little place outside of Destin, Florida. I'm going to stay at someone's condo for a week. Then I'm going on a two-night fishing trip. It was a trip that was supposed to be scheduled in January, but the seas were too rough and we couldn't go out. I think we'll be fishing for tuna or maybe swordfish. I'm excited about it. That's my one week of vacation, so after that, I've really got to make sure I stay in shape.
Thompson: Are you doing this with family or are you doing it with teammates?
Cottam: A couple of guys from here and a couple of guys I went to Tennessee with. I'm going fishing with my dad and brothers.
Thompson: It sounds like you've got a great mix of new friends, old friends and family. That should be a lot of fun.
Cottam: Yep, I'm really excited about it.
Thompson: Brad, give the Kansas City fans a reason for optimism based on what you're seeing about this team so far.
Cottam: We've picked up a whole lot of veterans and I really think they're in great leadership roles. We're going to be in better shape than we've ever been in. We're running, we're working hard, and everyone is working really hard to get better.
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