Camp Notebook: Justin Reid Bidding to Earn Leadership Stripes on Day One

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Football players wear tape on their wrists for stability and injury protection. For Chiefs safety Justin Reid, the tape on his wrists also delivers motivation and inspiration.

Before Wednesday’s practice, Reid scrawled two messages on his wrists — “Finish @ the ball” on the right wrist and “Communicate Backpedal” on the left side. It’s reminders to himself to set a standard and hold himself accountable.”

“If there’s something that I didn’t do well the previous practice, again like making the same mistake twice, I write it down to make sure I don’t do it again,” Reid said after his first minicamp practice with the Chiefs on Wednesday.

It’s that attention to detail and sense of purpose that made Reid a priority free agent target this offseason. Yes, the Chiefs need a strong safety who can cover, defend the run, play in the box and blitz the quarterback. But with the departure of veteran Tyrann Mathieu, they also need a leader who can set the tone of a “totally new defense”

“That’s my strong point,” Reid said. “I feel like that’s the reason why they brought me in is being a field general on the backend, being able to see the whole picture. Not only just put guys in position but sometimes you just go out there and play football, mistakes happen. But having the awareness to be able to see when something is a little bit off and be the eraser on the backend to make that either we get him on the ground or just to fix mistakes where most people don’t even notice there was a mistake on the field.”

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is banking on Reid emerging as a leader of this defense. During OTAs, Reid emphasized leadership roles are earned, not given. He took another strong step toward earning his stripes on Wednesday, intercepting a pass from Patrick Mahomes during the full team period. Reid read the route correctly and jumped in from of tight end Jody Fortson to force the turnover at the goal line.

“I was just playing the defense Coach Spags tells us what to do, we go out and execute it. When you do that, you buy into the program, you be a good teammate, you be a good student of the game, good things usually happen. I try to keep myself humble and plays like that happen. When you have your opportunity, you just got to catch it.

Reid knows the recent history in Kansas City, and he knows from his experience in Houston last season how slow starts can doom a season. Starting strong is a priority for the Chiefs’ defense in 2022.

“We don’t want to have to take a couple of games getting to it,” he explained. “We want to come out from day one and be a dominant defense. I think today was a great day for us, but you’re only as good as the next day. So tomorrow we’re going to have to come out and do it again.”

Notes & observations

Andy Reid continued his training camp tradition of making the opening practice a quick, brisk workout with the players on the field for just 75 minutes. Cloudy skies and a 70-degree morning greeted the players as they trekked from the indoor facility down the hill to the practice fields, but it wouldn’t be a chamber of commerce day for long. Temperatures were approaching 80 degrees with 84% humidity when the final horn sounded at 10:30 a.m.

After the stretch and individual periods, the offense and defense moved into their installation period, refreshing concepts learned during the offseason and learning the plays and formations they will run during the upcoming season.

It took 18 minutes into practice to answer one major burning question: who would take the first reps at left tackle in the absence of Orlando Brown Jr. The answer was Roderick Johnson. It wasn’t a huge surprise after Johnson was productive there during the offseason program and the veteran minicamp in June. He was joined on the starting line by left guard Joe Thuney, center Creed Humphrey, right guard Trey Smith and right tackle Andrew Wylie.

When the team moved into 7-on-7 work, Mahomes was joined by running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they were the team’s starting lineup in Week 1 in “11 personnel” (the Chiefs call that Zebra) with one running back and one tight end on the field.

Highlights from 7-on-7 and team periods:

  • The first pass from Mahomes went to Edwards-Helaire out of the backfield. Mark this moment down as the point where it started if this is the year Edwards-Helaire becomes the threat in the passing game the Chiefs hoped he would become.
  • The first pass broken up of camp went to rookie Joshua Williams, who got a hand in to disrupt a Mahomes pass to Hardman down the right sideline. Williams is a player to watch in this camp.
  • Smith-Schuster had a big day, hauling in five catches on five targets, including a diving circus catch over the shoulder on an adjustment to a deep sideline throw from Mahomes.

  • The officials were in camp on day one, and the first flag of camp came in on Deandre Baker who grabbed a hold of Daurice Fountain trying to break up a Chad Henne pass.
  • Newcomer Lonnie Johnson made a good read in zone coverage to break up a Henne pass to tight end Jordan Franks, with the collision knocking off Franks’ helmet.
  • Receiver Gary Jennings made a nice catch in traffic on a Dustin Crum pass despite getting held by cornerback Jaylen Watson.
  • Rookie running back Isiah Pacheco has shown some surprising elusiveness early, including a quick change of direction after catching a pass in the flat from Henne that faked out linebacker Jack Cochrane.
  • Rookie receiver Skyy Moore was shut out in four targets, but the lack of production wasn’t all on him. Trent McDuffie had good coverage on one pass, and Henne airmailed a throw in the team period. His best opportunity came against Baker in coverage, and it was unclear if it was a true drop by Moore or if Baker got a hand on it.
  • The red zone portion of 7-on-7 drills produced the most excitement with Reid delivering his interception of Mahomes at the goal line. Mahomes exacted his revenge on the net play, connecting with Jerick McKinnon for a touchdown.
  • Mahomes was an efficient 4-of-5 in his first team period, with only a miss on a deep ball to Corey Coleman with L’Jarius Sneed in coverage.
  • Henne and running back Ronald Jones connected on the offensive play of the day on a deep wheel route down the right sideline. Henne dropped a rope into the hands of Jones, who looks to continue building his portfolio in the passing game.
  • Henne and Coleman combined for another strong play finishing the team period with a perfectly thrown ball along the back of the end zone to Coleman, who made a great catch while getting his feet inbounds.

The final special teams period opened with some trickeration for the field goal crew to entertain the fans on opening day. Harrison Butker hit six of seven field goal tries in his initial round with the first-team crew, missing only on a slight push to the right from around 40 yards.

One of the more interesting position battles to watch in training camp is at cornerback, where rookie McDuffie is a likely starter opposite L’Jarius Sneed. With Rashad Fenton sideline right now, fourth-round pick Joshua Williams was the next man up in the nickel, lining up on the left side with McDuffie on the right and Sneed in the slot. Dicaprio Bootle also received first-team looks.

On the second team, Bootle played the slot with Lonnie Johnson and Deandre Baker on the outside. Notable is that McDuffie also took snaps as a slot corner with the third team.

Two rookies to watch regarding their positions are seventh-round draft pick Nazeeh Johnson and former Mississippi running back Jerrion Ealy. Johnson played primary safety at Marshall while also playing in the nickel, but he’s working with cornerbacks right now, including on the outside. The 5-foot-8 Ealy worked with running backs during the offseason program but so far is working with wide receivers since arriving with the rookies on Friday.

Injury report

Edwards-Helaire started training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list but it was a short stay for Andy Reid’s starting running back.

“Clyde was put on PUP to finish his testing and then he practiced today so we just took him off it when he practiced,” Reid said.

Edwards-Helaire didn’t appear to be limited on Wednesday, and Reid didn’t identify any specific injury. He did wear a compression sleeve on his left leg.

Defensive end Frank Clark wasn’t on the field at the start of practice but appeared midway through the workout. After a brief stretching period with an athletic trainer, he joined his teammates on the sideline with his helmet but didn’t appear to take any snaps.

“Frank Clark was ill, came back down and practice,” Reid said. “Had a test he had to do, came back, knocked that out.”

Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed went to the sidelines during the team period and did not return. After spending time with an athletic trainer he returned to the sideline and appeared eager to return to the field but was held back. Reid did not specify any issue with Sneed after practice, so the concern appears very low.

Cornerback Rashad Fenton, right tackle Lucas Niang and offensive lineman Prince Tega Wanogho remain on the PUP list and did not practice.

Transaction report

The Chiefs on Wednesday officially signed defensive end Azur Kamara, who was on the practice field wearing No. 93. The 26-year-old Kamara entered the league as an undrafted free agent from Kansas in 2020 and played in nine games for the Dallas Cowboys last season, tallying three total tackles playing primarily special teams.

The Chiefs cleared space on the 90-player roster by waiving defensive tackle Cortez Broughton with a failed physical designation. The club placed Broughton on the PUP list opening camp on Tuesday.

The blind side

Johnson took the first reps at left tackle during training camp but he likely won’t be the only player filling in for the unsigned Brown.

“We’re going to keep rotating, keep rotating them in,” Reid said. “Nothing is solidified there.”

Johnson is a 26-year-old St. Louis native who was a fifth-round draft pick out of Florida State for the Browns in 2017. He also spent time with the Texans and Dolphins, playing in 29 games with six starts with experience at both left and right tackle. He’s been with the Chiefs since signing with the club’s practice squad on Jan. 19.

The next most likely candidate is Geron Christian, a fifth-year player who entered the league from Louisville as a third-round pick for Washington in 2018. He’s played in 38 games with 16 starts. He started eight games at left tackle last season for the Houston Texans.

Other potential candidates include Evin Ksiezarczyk and David Steinmetz, two free agents signed by the Chiefs on Monday. Rookie Darian Kinnard is also a potential candidate, although thus far the bulk of his work has been at right tackle. Andrew Wylie is another consideration but he currently holds the No. 1 spot at right tackle on the depth chart.

One player not expected to take reps at left tackle is Joe Thuney, who filled in there last season in Week 17 against Cincinnati when a pregame calf injury forced Brown out of the lineup. Reid says they know Thuney can play there if needed

“Probably not right now,” Reid said.

What’s Next?

The Chiefs are back on the field for their second practice of training camp Thursday at 9:15 a.m. The linebackers group is scheduled to sign autographs after practice, which expects to conclude around 11:30 a.m.

Thursday’s practice is the first workout open to the general public. Virtual tickets must be purchased on the team’s website. Admission to most practices is free however the university collects a $5 parking fee per vehicle.