Camp Notebook: Streamlined Preseason Game Plans Force Players to Showcase Skills

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — A secret for top chefs to test would-be cooks by asking them to cook the most simple of dishes, the everyday omelet — a simple dish requiring skill to truly master.

Renowned chef Wolfgang Puck once said, “I tell people when they come to my restaurant and want to be a cook, I say, ‘Make me an omelet, and I will see what kind of a cook you are.”

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has a similar test for football players. In Reid’s case, he wants them to execute a vanilla game plan with basic plays everyone should know.

“My thing is, why do I like it? Because you have an opportunity to see what their talents are,” Reid said Monday. “At the same time, they’ve got to be able in that 30-so seconds figure out what the play is, get up and go and perform it at a high level.”

The Chiefs’ game plan against the Chicago Bears on Saturday didn’t include anything tricky. Some were plays fans recognize because the Chiefs have run them for years. Reid learns more about players running from a classic I-formation than any trickery he can devise on the back of a napkin.

During a regular training camp practice, teams conduct what’s called an installation period — a session where the offense or defense runs through new plays and concepts without an opponent on the field. It’s a dress rehearsal of sorts. Later the team will run the same plays with opposition on the field.

“We overload the guys with plays,” Reid said describing the training camp process. “We’ve had now 12 installs, right, so with 20 pass routes going in and 10 run plays going in, all of a sudden you have this whole big volume of pays, so what we try to do is cut it down.”

That’s roughly 360 plays the Chiefs have put into their offense during offseason workouts and training camp. The team doesn’t want to show any of its new plays to future opponents in the preseason, which means streamlining the offense.

“You can’t feasibly use all of those and expect the guys to go out and execute in a game with that,” Reid said. “So we cut it down so they can actually go perform at a high level.”

What the game plan reveals, just like cooking an omelet, is who has mastered the essential elements of the offense and who may need more seasoning.

“We can do better with what we showed the other night,” Reid said. “That was the thing with that third group and the fourth guys that came in. The execution there, they have to feel that urgency to knock that thing out and understand it and master it in the couple of days they have to review it.”

Notes & observations

Monday might have been the most ideal football weather anyone can expect from training camp in the Midwest in August. Cloudy skies kept the temperature in the low 70s from most of the two-hour practice that kicked off at 9:15 a.m.

The workout started with the traditional stretch, individual and install periods. For the group period, running backs, tight ends, linebackers and safeties gathered on the primary field while wide receivers and defensive backs worked together on the secondary field. The later group faced off in one-on-one passing drills.

The running backs and tight ends faced off against the linebacker and safeties in pass protection drills and route-running one-on-one matchups. Running back Isiah Pacheco had two standout reps in both periods. In pass protection, he effectively held his ground against linebacker Darius Harris. In the passing drill, Pacheco hauled in a pass downfield despite linebacker Jack Cochrane hanging all over him.

Next up came a 9-on-7 run period on the primary field while receivers and defensive backs continued their one-on-one and bracket challenges on the secondary field. Clyde Edwards-Helaire took first work with the No. 1 offense followed by Jerick McKinnon. Pacheco, Ronald Jones and Derrick Gore rounded out the rotation.

The first full-team period showcased a change in the nickel defensive lineup with cornerback Rashad Fenton stepping in at right cornerback with Trent McDuffie on the left side and L’Jarius Sneed in the slot.

Mahomes was 6-of-8 passing during the period, with the only incompletions coming on a drop by tight end Jody Forton and a broken-up pass by Sneed on a deep ball to Mecole Hardman. Defensive end Joshua Kaindoh tipped a Chad Henne pass at the line of scrimmage among the defensive highlights.

Next up was the special teams period, which had an unusual look due to the absences of kicker Harrison Butker and punter Tommy Townsend (more on that later in today’s Notebook).

Next up was a dual 7-on-7 period alongside one-on-one drills between offensive and defensive linemen. Center Creed Humphrey experienced a rare setback when defensive tackle Khalen Saunders managed to sneak past him.

The 7-on-7 period, however, featured fireworks when Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce verbally teed off on Fenton for what they viewed as the overuse of hands by the defensive back.

Kelce said there were no issues between himself and Fenton after practice.

“That’s how you get better, man, and Fenton’s one of our best competitors, one of our best DBs,” Kelce said. “He gets after, and that’s what I love about this game, man, you get another chance to line it up and get after a guy the next play. If you don’t have that during practice, the competitive juices got to get going, you got to have that.

The defense had another solid performance in the final team period. It did appear the offense was working on third-and-long situations, however, which creates more difficult situations. McDuffie had a nice pass breakup against Fortson while defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton tipped a Henne pass.

The practice wrapped up with another special teams period. The kick return team received kicks from the JUGS machine with Butker out rather than deploy Justin Reid again. Pacheco led off the returners followed by Corey Coleman, Skyy Moore, Jerrion Ealy and Fenton.

Injury report

The team’s only major injury emerging from Saturday’s game at Chicago was tight end Blake Bell’s hip flexor injury, which appears more complicated than first appeared, Reid said Monday.

“This particular one that he had is a little bit unusual,” Reid said. “So they’re going through and kind of looking at it and seeing where we go with it but I’ll have more later for you.”

Reid said the injury occurred during Bell’s 5-yard touchdown reception in the first half of Saturday’s game against the Bears. Bell went to the ground at the end of the play following a hit from linebacker Nicholas Morrow. Bell later reentered the game before going down a second time and leaving for good.

“He felt like he could still go and he went back in, and then he went down,” Reid said. “He’ll get fixed up and go, we’ll see how that whole thing goes.”

Kicker Harrison Butker left practice early due to a sore ankle. With punter Tommy Townsend excused for personal reasons, the Chiefs opted to give Butker the day off as well to rest. Reid didn’t have any long-term concerns for Butker on Monday.

“I don’t think so,” Reid said. “I think he’ll be OK.”

Cornerback Rashad Fenton (shoulder) and tight end Jody Fortson (quad strain) both took part in full team periods for the first time in their return from injuries.

Right tackle Lucas Niang (knee) remains on the physically unable to perform list and has not been cleared to practice.

Transactions

The Chiefs officially added free-agent defensive tackle Danny Shelton on Monday while also getting a head start on the reduction to 85 players.

The team waived cornerback Lonnie Johnson, receivers Gary Jennings and Omar Bayless, and offensive tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk. Jennings, recovering from a concussion, was waived with an injury designation. He’ll return to the Chiefs on injured reserve if he clears waivers.

Johnson is the boldest name in that list after the Chiefs sent a conditional 2024 seventh-round draft pick to Houston for the 26-year-old in May. The departure of Johnson should mean that the pick returns to the Chiefs. But Johnson never seemed to find a role in Kansas City, and he played just 15 defensive snaps in the second half of Saturday’s preseason game against Chicago.

Shelton was a limited participant in his first practice with the Chiefs on Monday, but he did participate in one-on-one blocking drills and in the 9-on-7 run period with the third-team defense. He’s expected to have a gradual ramp-up in activity given his late arrival in camp.

“He’s a big body that’s a good athlete,” Reid said of Shelton. “He’s had a lot of good downs in this league. He was out there, and (general manager) Brett (Veach) wanted to add a little more in there so he brought him in. I think it’s a good addition.”

The Chiefs currently have 87 players under contract. They must make two more moves before Tuesday’s 3 p.m. central time deadline to reduce the roster down to 85 players.

Pop in the passing game

Pacheco noted on Monday that “film don’t lie,” and right now the film is showing that the rookie running back has been impressive in all facets of his game in the backfield, including as a pass catcher and blocker.

Pacheco’s success in the passing game might come as a surprise to some. He caught 47 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown in four seasons at Rutgers, and only caught 13 passes for 25 yards last season. But Andy Reid isn’t stunned at his performance in camp.

“Well, we thought he had it, so you never know until you get them, right,” Reid said.

Pacheco showed off his hands, contact balance and playmaking ability in the game against the Bears, picking up a nice 5-yard gain on a throw from Mahomes along the right sideline. The rookie says he took a simple approach on the play.

“It didn’t matter what I did after the play, it was catching the ball first for me and then getting what I can after,” Pacheco said. “When those opportunities come, just take advantage of it.”

It doesn’t hurt that the play caught the eye of the head coach.

“I thought that was a heck of a catch, and then it was a nice run after the catch,” Reid said. “But we thought he could do it, and he’s showing it out here.”

Backup field goal team

With Butker and Townsend out on Monday, the Chiefs used their special teams period to give work to their emergency kicker and kick holder.

While Chiefs fans learned over the weekend that safety Justin Reid was the emergency kicker, Monday’s practice introduced the emergency holder, Juan Thornhill.

After their snaps on the field with the No. 1 defense during the first team period of practice, Reid and Thornhill proceeded to the secondary field to work on kicks with long snapper James Winchester. That was just a preview for the following special teams period when Reid kicked from the hold of Thornhill for field goals. After doinking his first try off the upright, Reid he sent in a row inside 33 yards before missing his final kick from just inside 40.

Reid said last week he felt his maximum range during a game would be 45 to 50 yards. He showed plenty of range on Monday, bouncing one kick inside the media tent on the hill behind the uprights and another on top of the tent.

Andy Reid praised Thornhill for his performance after practice.

“It was good work for him, I thought he did a nice job,” he said. “Both those two, I thought Reid did a nice job too.”

Kelce’s Krunch

First came Mahomes Magic Crunch, and now it’s Travis Kelce’s turn at the breakfast table with Kelce’s Krunch hitting the shelves at Kansas City area Hy-Vee stores this past weekend.

“I’ve already went through about 10 boxes,” Kelce said. “I’m a big frosted flakes guy and this is the Kelce crunch version of it for sure. I think it has a little bit more sugar but don’t ask me.”

Proceeds from the sale of the limited-edition collector’s product will go to Kelce’s 87 & Running Foundation, which is dedicated to providing services to youth in the urban center of both Kansas City and the tight end’s hometown of Cleveland. Hy-Vee expects the cereal to raise $18,500 for the foundation. The grocery store chain also this weekend introduced Thielen’s First Down Flakes with Vikings receiver Adam Thielen available in Minnesota.

“Hopefully we can get Kansas City on board and raise some funds here for my foundation,” Kelce said.

Which is Kelce’s Krunch better than Mahomes Magic Crunch?

“It might not have any magic in it but it’s pretty good,” Kelce said of his cereal.

What’s next?

The Chiefs are back at practice on Tuesday morning for a 9:15 a.m. workout. Rain is in the forecast, however, so fans planning to attend practice should keep an eye on the weather and social media for updates.

The team makes every effort to continue practicing in rainy conditions but lightning in the area will force practice into the indoor facility. Indoor practices are not open to the public.

The Chiefs have their penultimate practice on Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. with their final workout in St. Joseph on Thursday kicking off at 8:15 a.m. The final practice is scheduled as a 10-10-10 practice which means it will be about 75 minutes long without pads.