ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Fans got their first glimpse of the 2018 edition of the Chiefs on Thursday in a brisk open workout on a beautiful summer day in St. Joseph.
Coaches spread around the reps to a lot of players so that everyone could knock a bit of rust off. Practices grow longer and more focused starting on Saturday.
Day's highlights and analysis
Offensive play of the day came courtesy of Patrick Mahomes and Sammy Watkins. Watkins got past corner Keith Reaser on a post route and Mahomes dropped a 60-yard bomb on Watkins in stride for an easy touchdown. The two tried to hook up for a similar play on the opposite side but the ball wobbled on its way off target. Mahomes had a couple of dud throws but no picks on the first day of work.
Defensive play of the day goes to cornerback Steven Nelson. Had good coverage against tight end Alex Ellis, who elevated for a high pass from Matt McGloin. Nelson snatched the ball off the deflection and took off the other way.
Cameron Erving opened up camp at center with the first team offense but Mitch Morse later subbed in. That substitution pattern is consistent with the team's plan to work players like Morse returning from injury slowly into the line. It's also consistent with the plan to keep Erving as a super-sub one the offensive as the first-man up at multiple spots, especially center and guard
Tanoh Kpassagnon showed good coverage and nearly intercepted a pass. Showed good speeds and instincts on the coverage. There were some worries inside the organization with Kpassagnon's development in his first season, but he looked sharp in OTAs and has drawn a lot of praise from coaches, especially outside linebackers coach Mike Smith.
Harrison Buter does not appear to have lost any of his confidence from his rookie season. He was perfect on his first round of field goal kicks and sent most booming down the middle.
The Chiefs are searching for a kick returner, and Kerwynn Williams, Tremon Smith and De'Anthony appear to be the leading candidates. Williams has had success returning kicks in the past, as has Thomas. But with Thomas returning from injury and the squad's lackluster performance in the return game last season, the competition is wide open. This is a position almost impossible to judge in training camp, though, so wait for the preseason game to evaluate this contest.
The same rotation appeared in punt return drills, with one exception. Tyreek Hill led the line followed by Williams, Smith and Thomas. Gehrig Dieter is a sleeper candidate. He's in the hunt in several positions on special teams and seems ticketed for the practice squad at the minimum. The wide receiver group might be tough for him to crack but he could get an opening if there's any injury
The first team defense spent most of its first day in sub packages. Expect the Chiefs to play the majority of their snaps in sub packages, but remember coaches want to put on a show at training camp day one and throw the ball a lot with four-receiver sets. But the defensive lineup of Allen Bailey and Chris Jones up front with Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland (when healthy) should make up the front seven. That leaves David Amerson at left corner, Steven Nelson at right corner and Kendall Fuller in the slot with Eric Berry at strong safety and Daniel Sorenson at free safety.
The substitution patterns for day one of camp mean almost nothing but they can at least show a direction of where players stand.
Mahomes was pretty solid for day one, with a couple of misfires but no turnovers. His opening pass looked like it slipped in his hand, and he did manage to overthrow Sammy Watkins at one point. But his faux two-minute drills was very sharp. A lot of quick outs, but it's amazing how quickly he can get the ball on a rope to the outside. Much is talked about Mahomes stretching the field vertically with the deep ball, but maybe more impressive is his ability to stretch the field horizontally, throwing to the far side of the field on quick outs.
Chris Conley looks very impressive for this point in his recovery. He made an outstanding catch on a deep post route from Mahomes where it looked like his speed was there. He had a drop during the two-minute drill on a laser from Mahomes, but that was the only blemish on an otherwise pretty good day.
Breeland Speaks picked up some first-team reps on the edge. He once lined up as a standup rusher over the left tackle and then dropped back in coverage. He looked pretty good during minicamp but now needs to show it against the ones when his No. 2 defense is on the field.
Eric Murray entered as the dime safety with Hitchens remaining on the field as the middle linebacker. Looked like in the few reps he saw in that role he played deep centerfield with Berry and Sorensen in their usual roles.
The first day of practice so no major surprises but a couple of situations to watch as camp unfolds.
Cameron Erving started the day at with the first-team offense. Mitch Morse later shared reps with Erving and also took some reps with the second team offense. Head coach Andy Reid says it's part of the plan to ease Morse back into the lineup from injury and that he expects Morse to be the team's starting in Week 1. But Erving also expects to be Morse's primary backup, so getting him first-team reps when possible should pay dividends.
Parker Ehinger took all of the reps at left guard with the starting offense. Wait until Friday, however, to see if that remains the same. Ehinger and undrafted rookie Ryan Hunter shared the position during OTAs and minicamp by alternating days. If Ehinger lines up with the ones on Saturday, that's significant.
With Reggie Ragland on the non-football injury list, Ukeme Eligwe took the first reps alongside Anthony Hitchens inside. Terrance Smith and Dorian O'Daniel also followed him with first-team reps. Eligwe is certainly a player to watch. He was a big contributor on special teams last year and look sharp playing outside linebacker last year in Week 17 against Denver.
Watkins shines on day one
The 60-yard bomb from Mahomes to Watkins brought a roar from the crowd, and served as the latest indication that the duo is starting to click.
“He's a guy that will stay after and get extra work, a guy that wants to put the work in to be great,” Mahomes said. “When you have guys like that all around our team, it's easy to build chemistry and build that kind of deep ball or if it's a short pass or whatever it is.”
Tight end Travis Kelce also finds himself impressed by Watkins so far.
“The guy's an unbelievable talent, he really is,” tight end Travis Kelce. “He's a high-character guy, you can't say anything wrong about him. It's been exciting just to see him come out here and work because he's such a great athlete and he makes you want to get better every single day.”
Head coach Andy Reid singled out Watkins' willingness to run out routes even when he's decoy and put in extra time on route running.
“I love Sammy's attitude and his work ethic,” Reid said. “He's all business, he's a quiet guy. He's all business. I love the way he goes about, a true pro.”
For his part Watkins feels he is growing more comfortable in the offense and the playbook.
“I've gotten the plays down but of course we've got so much to build on with chemistry and working with the guys,” Watkins said. “The offense is so bright you can't sleep on it so everyday we've got to go over it and go over the installs.”
No Bashaud Breeland … yet
Free agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland left St. Joseph for the next stop on his NFL job tour, but no one has ruled out the possibility he could still land with the Chiefs.
“They're still talking and we'll just see how things work out,” Reid said of negotiations between Breeland and general manager Brett Veach. “He's got a bunch of visits setup and that's what he's going to do.”
Reid said the pursuit of Breeland isn't a reflection of the team's current cornerback crop.
“You can't have enough of those guys,” Reid said. “Brett's always keeping his eyes open.
Former Washington teammate Kendall Fuller said he tried to keep Breeland in St. Joseph.
“I talked to him here, we had lunch together, things like that,” Fuller said.
Reggie Ragland starts camp on the non-football injury list. Ragland developed puffiness in his knee following his flight to Kansas City for camp. Head coach Andy Reid said the team's training staff does not consider the issue a long-term concern.
"He's in great shape, we're just going to let it calm down, precautionary measure, let it calm down and he'll get back out," Reid said. "I don't think it's going to go crazy about."
Rookie safety Armani Watts also missed the camp's opening practice after straining his knee during the three-day minicamp. Also on the sidelines where cornerback Ashton Lampkin (knee) and wide receiver Josh Crockett (illness)
Quote of the day
Patrick Mahomes on when he first saw Sammy Watkins:
I think the first I recognized Sammy was from playing NCAA 2013 or '14 or whatever when he was in Clemson. That was when I knew him and the great athlete that he was and the great receiver he was.
The second practice of camp kicks off at 8:15 a.m. and should run about 2 hours and 40 minutes. Practice will be slower paced than Thursday's work and include more drills and individual work.
Forecast calls for a high of 82 degrees and just a 10 percent chance of rain. Temperatures expected to start at 64 degrees at the start of practice and climb to 74 by the end.
With greater chances of rain on the weekend, Friday might be the best practice to attend the next few days.