The Kansas City Chiefs took another step toward real football on Wednesday, hitting the field for the first Organized Team Activity, or "OTA," practice of the offseason.
OTAs mark the beginning of "Phase 3," which permits on-field drills of the 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 variety. The first portion of the program, "Phase 1," began on April 18 and limited participants to strength and conditioning while at the team facility. "Phase 2" kicked off on May 2 and allowed for limited on-field work, such as individual and positional drills, but no full, "team" activities. The onset of "Phase 3," while still prohibiting "live contact" and wearing pads, finally permitted the offense and defense to actually line up across from one another during practice.
"It's great to have these guys back in here. We've had a great turnout, and they're working hard within the rules of what we can do," said Head Coach Andy Reid. "It's good to introduce all this new stuff to the new players, and they seem to be very responsive picking it up."
These practices are particularly important for the cohesion of the Chiefs' new-look receiver group, as only three players who caught more than 10 passes last season are set to return in 2022. The good news, however, is that quarterback Patrick Mahomes and company already got a head start on that process with four weeks of informal workouts in Texas last month.
"Firstly, I think we built some chemistry just working out, throwing together, getting lunch and stuff like that. [Those things] build that chemistry. A big part of our offense is having that chemistry on the field, and I think it's translated," Mahomes said. "We've been on the same page [so far during OTAs], and we're going to keep building on that."
According to Coach Reid, that work has been evident. Notably, new receivers such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling entered this week's practices with a foundation – both on and off the field – that they wouldn't have had otherwise.
"You can see that it's carried over," Reid said. "He was able to [work on] the base routes with them…It's been good. Way better execution than you would think for a bunch of new guys together."
It's all part of an evolution for the Chiefs' offense this offseason, which will undoubtedly look different in 2022 with so many new faces in the building. That process is still in its infancy, but Mahomes is already excited about this group's potential.
"The first day [in Texas], JuJu had a big day. The second day, it was Marquez. That's what you're going to see with our offense this year. It's going to be everybody," Mahomes said. "[Everyone in] the receiving room is going to have a big day, and that's something that we can use to our advantage."
This week also marked the first opportunity for the Chiefs' rookie class – all 21 of them – to take the field for full, 11-on-11 practices alongside their veteran counterparts. It's a big step, but one that will provide Kansas City's youngest players with a chance to make an impact early on if they can seize the task at hand.
"With the new kids, we're throwing them right in and giving them a chance to see what the NFL is all about," said Reid, who was asked specifically about cornerback Trent McDuffie but went on to speak about the Chiefs' newcomers as a whole. "They've had some good plays, and some plays they need to work on, but it looks like they have great potential. [They have a] great attitude, they're very smart and they work hard. It's just a matter of getting [out there] and seeing everything."
At its core, this period of the offseason is all about physically and mentally preparing for training camp later this summer. It's important not to read too much into some aspects of OTAs, such as the earliest iterations of the depth chart, but these practices do represent an opportunity for guys to make an early impression. In fact, players who earned roster spots following training camp last year, such as tight end Jody Fortson and wide receiver Daurice Fountain, began that push with strong performances during Phase 3. Another example was offensive guard Trey Smith, who impressed enough during OTAs last year to begin training camp in a starting role that he never relinquished.
A player who seemed to make the most of that opportunity on Thursday was wide receiver Justin Watson, who hauled in an impressive touchdown grab from Mahomes during practice.
"Watson has been a pleasant surprise. That dude can roll. I remember when he came down to Texas and I threw with him the first day, I had to call [General Manager Brett] Veach and ask, 'Wait, how fast is this guy?' He was running so fast that I was late on my throws. [He's followed that up] with two great days this week," Mahomes said. "We have a lot of guys in that receiver room that if they don't make our team, they're going to make other teams. We have a lot of talent in that room."
Another young player who exemplifies that collective talent is wide receiver Justyn Ross, who most experts believed would be a mid-round draft pick before he went unselected last month. Ross battled through injuries during his time at Clemson, but now fully healthy, he's already been showcasing what he can do as an undrafted free agent signee in Kansas City.
"You see the talent – I think that's the first thing," Mahomes said. "Now, it's about him learning an NFL offense. That's how it is for any rookie when they come in…I think we've seen the splashes of how talented he can be, and there's been times when he's just barely off of what we wanted. He learns from that, and he doesn't make that same mistake. The more reps that he gets, I can only imagine how good he's going to be because of the talent that he possesses."
OTA practices, which are voluntary, will take place over the next two weeks at the team facility before mandatory minicamp gets underway on June 14. Coaches and players will next speak with the media on June 2 following another week of OTAs.