From Last Word On Pro Football, by Alexander Haynes
Two weeks into camp, the weekend grind was real. As most professionals in the world take the weekend off, the Kansas City Chiefs were doing anything but relaxing. The skies opened with rain, but the defense maintained their effort. Injuries may have taken a dark turn on practice, but depth players refused to let it silence their play. No matter what injury, new scheme, or drill came toward the Chiefs training camp, the team worked together and excelled in overcoming.
Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp – Dark Skies Cannot Dim the Chiefs
Rain in the Sky, Thunder on the Ground
Saturday morning at Kansas City Chiefs training camp began with eyes to the sky. After two straight weeks of gorgeous weather, the heavens opened up at St. Joseph and rain was imminent. No matter, running back Kareem Hunt and wide receiver Tyreek Hill emulated the thunder portion of a storm by displaying phenomenal skills on the field. On Family Fun Day, the Chiefs put fun in football.
The team began the morning in the front office by making a roster transaction, waiving injured cornerback Keith Baxter and signing free agent corners Jacoby Glenn and Larry Scott. Both are long stretches to make the roster, but the opportunity is why they show up and work their hardest.
While most of practice Saturday went great, defensive tackle Bennie Logan lasted only a few repetitions before he headed to the locker room. Logan’s monster size has been noticed at camp, with his run stuffing ability leading the defense to win most goal line matchups. After practice, the injury was labeled as a sore knee.
To wrap up the injury report, tight end Travis Kelce sat out practice again with a sore knee, corner back Terrance Mitchell, linebacker Josh Mauga, and corner back Steven Nelson all sat out after leaving practice Friday. However, running back Charcandrick West returned to a limited practice route, favoring his good ankle.
Hill transitioned the narrative away from injuries by again dominating the defense. His speed is purely unprecedented and unfathomable. He has been the highlight of camp so far, and watching him work with quarterback Alex Smith shows one overarching theme: trust. And that trust lead to a 99-yard touchdown pass.
Smith has been throwing the ball ahead of Hill, in places where only he can catch up to the ball. Hill’s athleticism is a gift to the Chiefs, and the connection will be a headline well into the regular season. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton is already feeling his presence.
“Well, he can run right by you, he can run right around you,” Sutton explained. There is not too much he can’t do. He is a dynamic football player and certainly has the ability to run by you, it is a real challenge because of his great speed. The other factor is he can catch a short ball coming across or catch the ball out in the flat.”
Sutton further stated the positives of this challenge only being in practice.
“It is a great opportunity for us because you are dealing with speed and that is something that is hard to get all of the time,” he noted. “As difficult and challenging as it is, I think it will help us defensively.”
However, running backs C.J. Spiller and Hunt also showed athleticism on Saturday. Spiller worked down the sideline, catching deep passes from Patrick Mahomes. Hunt continued improving from a great Friday practice, and hauled in passes with ease. Softs hands from both running backs is making the second back slot a highly competitive position.
With Kelce out, Gavin Escobar has taken over the essential tight end reps. He continued to make consistent catches in what he described as a, “tight end friendly offense.” The transition for Escobar from the Dallas Cowboys to the Kansas City Chiefs training camp has come with a lot more film study to learn the multiple sets that tight ends are used in. Again, that’s the creativity coach Reid spoke about earlier in the offseason.
“I spend a lot of extra time in the film room just learning the offense and how the guys run routes,” Escobar stated, “and how to run them the way the Chiefs want to run them. There’s certain routes that are generic, but there’s other routes with little intricacies.”
Demetrius Harris, a Chiefs veteran, also added his commentary on how fun it was to play in Reid’s offense.
“There’s so many plays he’s got in there,” Harris commented. “You never know where you’re going to end up. Last year, we did a four-tight end set. So, you never know with Reid’s offense, you can be lined up at quarterback.
Harris was another highlight tight end at camp. Although neither made spectacular catches, their consistency and commitment to camp thus far have been positive notes. The little things shape football.
Of final note; moments where West and Hill spent extra time with fans at Family Fun Day is great to see. There were rumblings of complaints among fans that the Chiefs chose to use the far practice field on Family Fun Day, so it was great to see players spend time with fans.
Sunday – A Poignant Day of Relaxation
Sunday for the Kansas City Chiefs training camp was slower paced, relaxed, and without pads. It was a day for veterans to relax and bounce back after more intensive practices the past few days. Thus, when corner back Steven Nelson, safety Eric Berry, Bennie Logan, linebacker Derrick Johnson, defensive tackle David King, and Kelce were not practicing, concern was minimal.
Mauga and Mitchell both returned to the practice field and received higher repetition to alleviate for those resting. Leon McQuay also received more first-string repetitions and continued to dominate covering the seam. Again, he is a depth safety player that has shown potential to be a project safety and a sprinter on special teams.
Much of practice was refining plays and running through special teams drills. Ukeme Eligwe is now taking repetitions with the first string kickoff team. Additionally, he got the opportunity to take Johnson’s starting role.
After practice, coach Reid commented that Johnson and Berry were out for precautionary reasons.
“We just pulled off him a little, he’s got a sore heel,” Reid stated with regards to Berry. “I think we’re going to be OK. It gets inflamed every once in a while, and you just back off.”
“[Derrick Johnson]—he had three good solid days (of practice),” Reid continued. “We’re monitoring him with the Achilles, but he’s good.”
The Chiefs wrapped up Sunday by making another minor roster move. Linebacker Reshard Cliett was placed on waivers and defensive tackle Maurice Swain was signed.
The first depth chart was also released with no surprises.
Areas of Concern
Chiefs training camp has been overwhelmingly positive. Thus, creating a false narrative of concerns would be doing the work many of the younger players have put in a disservice. However, there are areas of major concern that have reared their heads. Under the positive tones, now would be a good time to address them.
Hill and Kelce will be the lead receivers on this team, and their improved connection to Smith is a deserving headline. However, there has not been a clear number two receiver to replace Jeremy Maclin. Seantavius Jones has had an excellent camp, but due to his history of wandering the practice squad his play longevity is in question.
Speaking of Kelce, his swollen knee is a concern no matter how much coach Reid attempts to dismiss the problem. Yes, the knee injury may be nothing, but any time a key center piece to the team is facing an injury, pause should be given.
The right side of the defensive front seven is largely unproven. Composed of Dee Ford, Tamba Hali, and Ramik Wilson, these are guys who are in ‘prove-it’ years. Ford had an outstanding 2016 season, but needs another year to prove his definitive value. Hali is still on the PUP list with age and inconsistent injuries as a concern. Wilson has rotated as a fill-in, backup linebacker and never had a full-time starting role. He is extremely valuable and important as a backup, but as a starter? Only time will tell.
The offensive line has been underwhelming, and that is to put things nicely. The Chiefs defensive line has dominated them in most drills. Which could be good signs for things to come, but the offensive line needs to improve their showing in camp and wake up. Will they be improved with continuity? Yes. But improving from a revolving door to a glass door is not good enough – they need to become an iron door for the Chiefs to reach their true potential.