Kansas City Chiefs rookie Brad Cottam played in all 16 games during 2008, starting in seven of those contests. While his receiving opportunities were limited by the presence of perennial Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez, Cottam used his 6-foot-7, 249-pound frame to the Chiefs' advantage as an effective blocker during his debut season. With unusual speed for his size, running the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds at the NFL Combine last year, Cottam is the tight end of the future for Kansas City. I checked in with the former third-round draft pick out of the University of Tennessee to talk about his rookie experience.
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Ed Thompson: Since Kansas City still had Tony Gonzalez on their roster, did you ever imagine that you would have the opportunity to start so often during your rookie season?
Brad Cottam: Being drafted by the Chiefs, I was told that Chan Gailey used a lot of two-tight-end sets, so that was something that I was aiming for. But obviously, with it being my rookie year, I wasn't sure how realistic it was, not being sure how long it would take to get accustomed to everything with this being a step above college. So I'm glad to be where I am.
Thompson: What were some of the biggest challenges, and how quickly did you adapt to the playbook?
Cottam: It wasn't as big of an adjustment as I thought it would be. What I tell people is that playing in the NFL is like going up against the toughest players you faced in college, but now you're facing them every week, because everybody's at that level. Probably strength isn't that much of a difference, the biggest thing is the speed. But learning a new offense was kind of tough because I had been in the same program for five years, and basically in the same offense. One of the things that made it easier was that we had a new offensive coordinator for the team, so everyone was going through that learning experience and that slowed it down a little bit. Most of the change for me was the terms, not what you were doing. I remember when I first got to Kansas City, I was converting what I was learning in Kansas City versus what I knew it as at Tennessee, but after a while it went more smoothly and I didn't have to think about it too much.
Thompson: How much has your size been an asset at this level?
Cottam: It's been huge for me, because after missing a lot of my senior year, teams mainly had to evaluate my potential. Early in the season I was primarily a blocking tight end and I wasn't going out on many routes. But as we went along and changed the offense a little bit, I started running a lot more routes and getting the ball little bit. But that's the thing about being a tight end, you've got to be a dual threat. And when you've got someone on your team like Tony Gonzalez, they're not going to play you much unless you can bring something else to the table. So with my size, I was able to block.
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Thompson: Statistically, your best receiving game of the year was against the Jets when you had four catches in that game. What was clicking for you that week?
Cottam: That was the first week where we kind of changed things up. We went into a version of the two minute drill, just not quite as fast. I was actually split out, and our plan going in was just to use it for one series, but it worked so well we just kept going with it. I think it kind of surprised them, and I hadn't caught any passes this season up until then, so they weren't real concerned about me as a receiving threat. And then as we opened it up, it gave Tyler (Thigpen) another receiving target and it helped the whole offense.
Thompson: What are some of the most valuable things that you picked up this year by working alongside a guy like Tony Gonzalez?
Cottam: I think the biggest thing you'll notice is that he really does work harder than everybody else. If you watch him, he's doing things that you wouldn't think that someone who's been around as long as he has would be doing. He stays after practice to catch more balls. And during the games, when the defense is on the field, he's on the sidelines catching balls, and he's always doing little things with his footwork. I think seeing him as a Pro Bowler and still putting out that extra effort has shown me that it really does pay off. I think that's really what sets him apart is that he's willing to do all that work.
Thompson: What you enjoying the most about playing in the NFL?
Cottam: First of all, it's just a blessing that I can do this for a career. Not many people can say that, and sometimes I sit back and think about the fact that I get paid to do something that I love. One of the really cool things was that the first day that I got here, I saw that my locker was next to Tony's, and this is a guy who has been in the league for 12 years, someone I grew up watching as a kid. And now to be playing right alongside him is just amazing. It's funny, because he doesn't seem like he's that much older at all. It's really cool to be playing with all these guys that you been watching over the years, like when we played the Jets and I was standing on the sidelines watching Brett Favre, and it gradually sinks in that I'm playing in the NFL with these guys.
Thompson: Do you ever poke a little fun at Tony, reminding him how young you were when you started watching him play?
Cottam: (laughing) Yeah, we've talked about it, because I was in like sixth grade, I think. We've got a couple guys like Brian Waters and Donnie Edwards that are around his age, so it's kind of weird to be playing with guys who are that much older than me.
Thompson: At your position you've got to wrestle with some nasty guys up on the line. Who wore you out a bit by the end of the game?
Cottam: I'd say that one of those guys was Julius Peppers. That game against Carolina was probably one of the first games where I was helping to block a really big-name defensive end. He was a tough guy, but I hate to single him out, because it was tough every week. That's one of the biggest differences from college, there is no one that you go up against where you can take it easy, because everyone is big and fast and strong.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.