OTA Notebook: Damien Williams Laying Claim in Backfield; Byron Pringle Shines

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Despite no Kareem Hunt or Spencer Ware atop the depth chart at running back for the Chiefs, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy made it clear he doesn't see a committee approach in the backfield in 2019.

"Damien Williams is our starter, we expect him to excel at that role," Bieniemy said following Thursday's organized team activities (OTA) practice.

That echoes the words of general manager Brett Veach, who proclaimed at the NFL Combine that the starting job was Williams' to lose.

That Williams is the expected starter doesn't come as a surprise given his closing performance last season. Stepping in as the starter following the departure of Hunt and an injury limiting Ware, Williams tallied 322 yards from scrimmage along with four touchdowns while averaging 5.97 yards per carry in the final three games of the regular season. He added 250 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns in two postseason games.

The Chiefs rewarded Williams with a two-year, $5.1 million contract extension through 2020.

Veach bolstered their running back stable during the offseason with the addition of veteran Carlos Hyde. Darrel Williams, an undrafted rookie from LSU last offseason, joined the No. 1 offense on Thursday with Damien absent for personal reasons. The Chiefs also added sixth-round selection Darwin Thompson from Utah State and undrafted free agent James Williams from Washington.

Bieniemy feels comfortable that if his incumbent starter falters or succumbs to injury, the club has reliable options just in case.

“I think each and everyone of those guys brings something a little different to the table,” Bieniemy said. “They got to be able to run, they got to be able to catch, they got to be able to block, and they all do it a little different.”

No Chris Jones at OTAs

Defensive tackle Chris Jones remains absent from the voluntary OTAs while awaiting word on a new contract extension Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo toed head coach Andy Reid's company line about the impact of Jones' absence as he works toward rebuilding the defense.

"I'm going to stand on the quote that coach Reid had,” Spagnuolo said. “Like to have everybody here, we're just going to work with the guys that are here. Get the guys better that are here."

There's little concern this time of year about Jones and his physical preparation. He remains in Florida working on his own, and Jones has shown an increased discipline with his offseason training regiment the past two years.

Spagnuolo said this time of the year is about building a foundation. Jones is certainly a cornerstone of what the Chiefs hope to building on defense this season. Without mentioning Jones by name, Spagnuolo seemed to hint at why the defensive tackle's absence makes a difference.

“What I really look for right now is building a foundation,” Spagnuolo said. “I've talked extensively with the guys about that. It's been all about building a foundation of fundamentals. That goes to communication, to believing in the system.”

Williams, Watkins miss OTA practice

Damien Williams and Sammy Watkins both missed Thursday's workout for personal reasons, leaving quarterback Patrick Mahomes working with an offensive lineup short on experience.

With tight ends Travis Kelce (ankle) and Deon Yelder (undisclosed) also on the sidelines, the offense opened up with running back Darrel Williams, receivers Demarcus Robinson and Gehrig Dieter and tight ends Blake Bell and John Lovett on the field with plenty of rotation and reps spread around.

Kelce and Yelder along with offensive lineman Cam Erving (shoulder), defensive end Tim Ward (knee) and linebacker Darius Harris (knee) watched practice from the sidelines. Receiver Tyreek Hill remains absent while suspended from team activities.

Linebacker Anthony Hitchens was on the field Thursday after missing last week's open practice for personal reasons.

Pringle making an impact

Wide receiver Byron Pringle appeared on the brink of cracking the opening week roster as an undrafted rookie last fall, but a hamstring injury in the final preseason game ended his campaign before it could begin. Now with a year of watching and learning under his belt, Pringle appears primed for a breakout this fall.

Wide receivers coach Greg Lewis single out Pringle immediately among the young but untested pass catchers in his group.

“He’s played fast, he’s played physical and he’s plucking the ball out of the air and he’s giving himself an opportunity to continue to make plays for us,” Lewis said.

Pringle made back-to-back highlight plays during seven-on-seven drills, hauling in a perfect back shoulder fade from Patrick Mahomes near the pylon for a touchdown. Mahomes came back to him on the next play for a low grab on a quick inside slant.

The former Kanas State receiver also has made an impression on special teams. He followed Tremon Smith during the the kickoff return portion of Thursday's OTA practice. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub said Pringle committed himself fully to his rehab and shows improvement even from the strong impression he made during the preseason.

“We were really high on him last year,” Toub said. “He's really looking good right now. He's like took it to another level. We're really excited the way he look right now.”

What's next?

The Chiefs break for the weekend and return for the final four days of voluntary OTA practices on Monday. The first three practices are closed, but the final workout next Thursday is open to the media.

The team's mandatory minicamp takes place June 11-13, which marks the final workouts before the team breaks for the summer.