Bryan Witzmann plans to improve on first season with NFL's Kansas City Chiefs
How did Bryan Witzmann unwind after his first full season of playing in the NFL?
He went on a solo backpacking trip through Cuba and Peru.
Witzmann spent the 2016 NFL season as a rookie reserve offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs. Making it onto the field for an NFL team shows the fortitude Witzmann has developed. The Chiefs are the fourth NFL team which has owned Witzmann’s contract.
Witzmann saw action in 12 games with the Chiefs this season, including the team’s playoff loss to Pittsburgh. He saw all of his game time on special teams, blocking for extra points and field goals. He also served as the backup at left tackle and left guard in those games.
Witzmann went to training camp last summer with the Dallas Cowboys. He was axed in the final round of cuts. He was claimed on waivers by the Chiefs. The 6-7, 320-pound Witzmann was given two weeks to learn the playbook. He then dressed for the team’s second game, which happened to be against the team which originally signed Witzmann, the Houston Texans.
Witzmann secured his place in the Chiefs’ plans later in the season. He was on the active roster for each of the final 10 games of the Chiefs’ season.
The 2014 graduate of South Dakota State University is an independent thinker. The postseason backpacking trip has become a yearly ritual. His plan is to backpack on all seven continents. With his trip to Cuba and Peru, he can scratch off South America as the third continent he’s toured. Witzmann shows no apprehension over backpacking alone through new countries. Instead, he relishes the adventure and meeting new people. He said there was just one person who spoke English in the village where he stayed in Peru. When visiting Cuba he met a group of people from Europe who he ended up travelling with.
Having that inner strength helped Witzmann in dealing with the three years of ups and downs as he tried to reach an NFL roster. Witzmann, 26, had hopes of making the final 53-man roster of the Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys. But it wasn’t until he received a call from the Chiefs that his years of work finally led to an NFL roster spot.
Witzmann said the chance to put in a full training camp with the Cowboys, including starting their final preseason game, was the opportunity he needed.
“It’s all about getting the opportunity, getting on tape. It’s all about catching a break and getting reps in,” Witzmann said.
Witzmann said training with Dallas, which is considered to have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, was further incentive.
“They have a pedigree they have to live up to. That got me prepared to play at that level,” Witzmann said. “Going against Tyron Smith (Dallas’ starting left tackle) every day in training camp, to see where the bar was set...that was huge for my development.”
Witzmann credited a change in approach to his success heading into training camp. He tried to put less pressure on himself and not get caught up in the rumors that swirl around NFL training camps.
“I decided to do what I do. I just put my best foot forward. That gave me a lot more peace. I wasn’t stressed out,” he said.
Of training camp, Witzmann said “it’s the most stressful work audition in the world.”
So when he was a casualty in the Cowboys’ cutdown to 53 players, Witzmann took it in stride.
“I wouldn’t say I was devastated. I put a lot of good film in. So there was potential for the practice squad or to get picked up,” he said.
Witzmann got cut on the last Thursday in August.
“That Sunday at 11:30, the Chiefs’ travel guy calls to book me on a flight,” Witzmann laughed, saying that was his first notification that he’d been claimed by the Chiefs. Ten minutes later, his agent called, saying he was being signed to the Chiefs’ 53-man roster.
Witzmann mainly saw action on special teams, but was on the field for one of the Chiefs’ most memorable touchdowns of the 2016 season. Witzmann was in at tackle in a package where defensive tackle Dontari Poe lined up at quarterback. Poe faked a dive into the line, then threw a touchdown pass to Demetrius Harris in front of a national TV audience in a win over Denver on Christmas night.
“That was exciting. We’d been working on that play for weeks,” Witzmann said.
Witzmann said he was healthy at the end of the season and has been working out with several other NFL players at a gym in the Twin Cities. He returns to Kansas City for the beginning of offseason work in April.
Now that he’s got a spot in the NFL, Witzmann is working hard to keep it. He said he plans to learn some boxing techniques, in hopes of improving his hand speed and making more precise hits against defenders. He also plans to try yoga to improve hip flexibility, “which is huge for an offensive lineman.” He said he’ll continue to work on his footwork, which he considers one of the most important elements in an offensive lineman’s skills.
“I’m excited to have a full offseason to work through things. I definitely feel good about my position in Kansas City,” Witzmann said.
Witzmann said playing in the NFL hasn’t changed anything about him. He does recognize his good fortune in being able to play at the ultimate level of football.
“It took a village to get me to where I am today. My parents, coach Larson, my college coaches, I’m definitely very appreciative of the people who helped me along the way,” Witzmann said.