Chiefs’ ex-rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit enjoys first football practices: ‘I can’t wait to see what happens next’

By Nick Shook, Around The NFL Writer

The International Player Pathway program has connected former rugby standout Louis Rees-Zammit with the defending Super Bowl champions.

Kansas City is taking a chance on Rees-Zammit, using the extra roster spot afforded by the program to see if he can make the jump from rugby to American football in a role that will primarily focus on the return game, with room for future inclusion in the offense. Following rookie minicamp, coach Andy Reid was encouraged by what he saw.

“This was good for him, this camp, for that reason he got a lot of reps,” Reid said Monday, via team transcript. “When the guys are here, he’s rotating in with those guys and he doesn’t get a ton of reps there. This gave him an opportunity to really jump in and learn. He’s so diligent with everything and wants to be so good at everything. I’ve appreciated that. You can see the progress he’s made. You guys saw that yesterday with the long run he had on the screen. I thought he was going to dive in the end zone but other than that it was good. He did good.”

Moving from rugby to football is no small task. It’s more than just putting on cleats, a helmet and taking the field. As Reid explained it, Rees-Zammit even needs to adjust to the shape of the football.

“He’s done a good job of working on holding the ball, they do hold it a little bit different, bigger ball and not quite as pointy as a football,” Reid said. “He’s done a good job with that, working that. He’ll learn the pad level the first time he gets hit (and) he’ll be able to adjust where he’s at there.”

Teammate Travis Kelce provided his take on Rees-Zammit’s acclimation period during an episode of the New Heights podcast last month, offering a dose of reality along with encouragement.

“It’s gonna be a humbling experience at first,” Kelce said when discussing Rees-Zammit with his older brother and recent retiree, Jason Kelce. “It’s not easy to just make that jump. They’re two completely different games. But he is an athlete, and that’s what the Chiefs saw. He’s a smart kid, smart player, so he’s going to be able to pick up the offense eventually, but it’s going to be a tough few months for him here while he’s getting acclimated to the NFL.

“We’ve been doing this since we were kids. We’ve been playing this game, so we just have those little instincts that we’ve built over the years that he has to start to catch up with. Biggest advice I gave him was just try not to let it overwhelm you as much as it can. Just know that everybody believes that you have the potential to be able to play. So just absorb as much as you can, learn as much as you can in the short time that you’ll have before the season.”

Rees-Zammit largely encountered this reality in his first work with the Chiefs, telling reporters Monday he’s going to need time to adjust.

“It’s completely different,” he said. “In rugby, it’s free flowing – unless you get a set piece in rugby that’s when you call a play, there’s probably 20-30 plays a game whereas here you’re talking 100. It’s been interesting to learn the playbook, obviously we’re only a few installs in. I’ve only been here for a week but yeah, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Still, because of the benefits of the program, the Chiefs have zero risk associated. They’re giving Rees-Zammit a try to see if he can use his athletic skills and carve out a place on the final 53-man roster, likely as a returner, especially given the anticipated increase in importance regarding the new kickoff format. Plus, if Rees-Zammit shows promise, perhaps he’ll play a role in Kansas City’s backfield.

Above all, it’s May — the perfect time to try things out. So far, so good.

“I like the fact that he’s got shorter steps initially, that’s a good thing as a running back,” Reid said. “If you’re a long strider in there you’ve got to really work on making it through those tight adjustments you have to make. He seems to have a nice feel though.”

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