The guys might not be in pads and more than half might not even currently be under contract for the Kansas City Chiefs, but there were football things happening Saturday afternoon as the Chiefs began the on-field portion of their annual rookie minicamp with 72 players in attendance.
Of the 72 players, 40 of them are participating on a "tryout" basis, while the rest are made up of the six guys from the 2019 draft class, 17 undrafted free agents who have already signed contracts, and the other nine are current Chiefs' players who were eligible to participate this weekend.
During his media availability before practice, Chiefs' coach Andy Reid also mentioned that there were a couple of players who wouldn't be practicing due to injuries, including linebacker Darius Harris (shoulder) and defensive end Tim Ward (knee). Both are dealing with injuries that occurred before they were signed.
Reid also mentioned that receiver Fenton Davis (achilles) and tight end John Lovett (wrist) would be limited at practice on Saturday.
The weather was perfect, and the energy was pretty good for the first day, so here are five observations from Saturday's practice:
1. The amount of communication coming from the defensive coaching staff was noticeable
The biggest takeaway from Saturday's practice came from the Chiefs' defensive coaching staff. It's an entirely new group and they were getting after it throughout the day. There was a ton of teaching going on after every single rep from every level of the defense.
Steve Spagnuolo—the new defensive coordinator—spent a lot of time talking with the defensive backs and explaining what he was looking for on every play. There was a huge emphasis put on the smaller details of what the guys were doing in coverage and where they were dropping in their coverages.
The energy carried over to the players as once the 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills began, the defensive players were into it—challenging the offensive players on every rep. The players were also very vocal pre-snap in communicating their assignments to one another.
It was a noticeable difference than in the past.
2. Second-round pick Juan Thornhill grabbed his first interception
He was called a ballhawk coming out of Virginia with 13 career interceptions, and that carried over to his first professional practice as safety Juan Thornhill picked off a pass across the middle from quarterback TJ Linta towards the end of the day.
Thornhill, who was playing free safety on the play, read the crossing route and broke on the overthrown ball across the middle and was able to dive and get his hands underneath it before it hit the ground. Thornhill hopped up and then returned it the other way for the only interception of the day.
He also found himself close to making a handful of other plays in coverage.
3. The running backs were showing their ability out of the backfield
While a good portion of the practice was running pretty slowly as the players are just sinking their teeth into the playbook for the first time, the one takeaway from the quarterbacks throwing a lot of checkdowns was that we got to see the hands of the running backs catching the ball out of the backfield.
Utah State's Darwin Thompson—the Chiefs' fifth-round pick—displayed the ability that people have come to know about the 5-foot-8, 198-pound playmaker in the passing game. Another running back—Marcus Marshall out of James Madison, who is attending on a tryout basis—showed some ability in the passing game as well.
There was one play in particular that Thompson had the ball in his hands and was running out in space down the field and did a perfectly-executed jump-cut to explode back to the right and into the clear for a huge gain. It showed the athleticism that people have been wanting to see.
4. Cornerback Jalin Burrell had a nice pass breakup
Another one of the Chiefs' undrafted free agents—cornerback Jalin Burrell out of New Mexico—had one of the best defensive plays of the day as he read a bubble screen on the outside and fought his way through the traffic to break up the pass.
The play got the chirping going a little bit from the defensive side, and Burrell—rightfully—celebrated a little bit after the nice play. Spagnuolo even came over and gave him a high-five, which is nice.
5. Undrafted rookie receiver Cody Thompson made two nice catches in traffic
While there were numerous guys who made some nice catches and showed some athleticism on the field, the two best catches of the day went to undrafted rookie free agent Cody Thompson out of Toledo.
Thompson, whose 30 career touchdowns were a school record, made two contested catches across the middle on passes that weren't particularly accurate. He showed the body control to secure the catch and do it with multiple defensive backs in the area.
The plays weren't necessarily Top 10 highlight-worthy or anything, but they were nice plays that you wouldn't have faulted him if he weren't able to make the catch. The best was on a post across the middle in which the throw was a little high and behind him and he was able to reach back and make the play.
Finally, receiver Mecole Hardman—the Chiefs' first pick in this past draft (No. 56 overall), who was considered "fast" by all draft analysts and anyone who ever watched him play, showed that he is, in fact, very fast. He took a couple of quick throws on the outside and showed a gear that looks to be at an NFL level already. It stood out.
The Chiefs return to practice Sunday afternoon.
The Kansas City Chiefs held Day 1 of Rookie Mini Camp at the University of Kansas Health Systems Training Facility.