KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs third day of practice during the final phase of offseason workouts did not necessarily dazzle but head coach Andy Reid says he’s seeing the progress he wants during this time of year.
“We’ve had good work through this period here, this is Phase 3, where we can actually work with one another and go against offense and defense,” Reid said. “The attitude has been phenomenal.”
Most of the offseason program that begins in April focuses on conditioning and individual instruction with no offense vs. defense team work. During 10 OTA practices and three days of mandatory minicamp over four weeks, the team can finally start putting together the pieces for the 2018 season.
Thursday’s practices marked the first workout open to the media, and here are five observations that stand out.
This is Patrick Mahomes’ team
When the Chiefs drafted Mahomes last year, Reid immediately spoke about allowing the young gunslinger to put his stamp on the West Coast offense. Make no mistake, that’s exactly what Reid is doing now during OTAs.
“I want him to be exposed to things and that’s what you do,” Reid said. “Then you work with it and put your personality on these different things. Try to find the things that he’s best at, work the offense around him like we did with Alex (Smith).”
Mahomes said he feels more comfortable in every aspect of his game, whether it’s calling plays in the huddle, identify defenses or adding his voice to the offense.
“As a rookie you come in and work hard and try to keep your head down and try to prove to the team that you’re trying to do what’s best for the team,” Mahomes explained, “and as you gain some of that respect as you go further into your career you start talking more and people can really respect what you’re saying because it’s in the best interest of the team.”
Running back Kareem Hunt said he already feels a bond with Mahomes. He said he’s comfortable in the quarterback’s ability as both a leader and a playmaker.
“He is just going in there with confidence, talking with everybody, making the calls and staying on top of things,” Hunt said.
Safety Eric Berry said he sees confidence in Mahomes and is excited about the improvement he can make in his second season.
“He’s been sure of himself and he’s came out and made plays, so nothing’s really changed just now he’s with the ones,” Berry said. “He’s hungry, he’s dedicated so we’ll see.”
Who’s back and who’s on the mend?
Berry and wide receiver Chris Conley both made triumphant returns to the practice field after seeing their season’s end with ruptured Achilles tendons a year ago. Linebacker Dee Ford, who is returning from season-ending back surgery, also is back on the field for workouts.
Berry’s participation in OTA’s in particular is a relief to Reid.
“It’s great to have him healthy is what it is,” Reid said. “He’s flying around, doing a great job.”
Center Mitch Morse, running back Spencer Ware and wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas are attending OTAs but not practicing with the team. Reid said it seems unlikely the trio will return to practice during the third and final phase of offseason workouts before training camp.
“They’re all coming off surgeries and they’re doing well, but right now they’re not going to practice during this period,” Reid said.
Sammy Watkins showing off early
Watkins wasted little time impressing his new teammates with his possession skills. Video of Watkins making one-handed catches during the first day of OTAs took Chiefs social media by storm on Wednesday.
First Watkins hauled in a deep ball on a go route, then he pulled in another on fastball over the middle from Mahomes.
“I thought I overthrew him and I thought I threw an interception but I just saw a hand come out of nowhere and he brought it down,” Mahomes said.
Trust between quarterback and receiver is a critical intangible, and plays like those will build credibility with Mahomes quickly.
“He’s someone that’s going to help this offense tremendously and someone who works hard and you really respect guys that have that much talent but really get after it every single day,” Mahomes said.
Sorting out the offensive line
Four of the offensive line positions would seem locked in barring injuries. Left tackle Eric Fisher, right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz are stalwarts on the line. Morse returns to center when healthy, which leaves left guard the only open position.
Cam Erving is taking snaps at center with Morse rehabilitating from foot surgery, and Reid says he’s delivered a strong performance during OTAs so far. That opens up left guard for Parker Ehinger, who started there during his 2016 rookie season until a torn ACL knocked him out of the lineup.
If Ehinger nails down the left guard position during training camp, that leaves Erving and Bryan Witzmann as likely backups. Both players offer tremendous versatility. Witzmann started 13 games last season at left guard but took snaps Thursday at tackle, which is his more natural position.
The Chiefs reshuffled their defensive secondary during the offseason. Steven Nelson is the only returning cornerback who started a game for the team last season.
Kendall Fuller and David Amerson appear ready to join Nelson in the team’s three-cornerback look. Fuller looks his best in the slot on either side, and Amerson seems more comfortable in a traditional press-man role on the outside.
The experience drop off after the top three is steep, but rookies Tremon Smith and Arrion Springs are getting opportunities to prove themselves along with returning corners Keith Reaser and Will Redmond.
The defense had success getting their hands on a few passes from Mahomes on Thursday. Nelson intercepted a pass intended for Chris Conley along the sideline. Defensive lineman Chris Jones batted down a pass, and linebacker Tanah Kpassagnon intercepted another deflected pass. … It’s time to count rookie Blake Mack as a wide receiver. The 6-2, 235-pound Arkansas State tight end spent minicamp with the wide receivers, and he’s continuing to work with receivers during OTAs. He’s a tweener size-wise, but could play an H-back receiver role with his pass-catching abilities. … Quarterback Matt McGloin and Kansas State wide receiver Byron Pringle connected on one of the better pass plays of the day. McGloin zipped a quick throw to Pringle on a hook route, who made the catch on a dime and made a nifty move for a big gain. … The Chiefs are giving a long look at tight end Alex Ellis, who the team picked up off waivers from New Orleans. Many expected Ellis to compete as a blocker, but he’s getting looks as a pass catcher and made a couple of nice grabs Thursday.