The NFL offseason training program is still in its earliest stages, but for the Kansas City Chiefs' rookie class, preparations for the upcoming season are already underway.
More than 60 players took the field on Saturday afternoon, kicking off a three-day rookie minicamp at the Chiefs' practice facility. The camp includes all 10 of the Chiefs’ draftees, 10 undrafted free agent signees and dozens more undrafted players invited to participate on a tryout basis. Additionally, a handful of players with limited experience – such as safety Devon Key, who signed with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent last year – are also permitted to take part.
For the majority of the camp's participants, however, this weekend marked the first time that they took the field as professionals.
"It's a dream come true, but it also lights a flame under me, because now it's time to work," said cornerback Trent McDuffie. "I have the jersey and the helmet, now the journey begins of doing what I've always dreamt of doing. It's amazing."
In many ways, the series of practices mirror what the Chiefs' mandatory minicamp will look like in mid-June. It includes individual, positional, 7-on-7 and team drills all under the guidance of Kansas City's coaching staff. These aren't padded practices and there's no "live" tackling taking place, but it's an opportunity for the newest members of the team to acclimate to life in the NFL before the veterans arrive for Organized Team Activities (OTAs) in a few weeks.
"It's like you're back to being a freshman, just trying to figure everything out, but I have great coaches and great teammates beside me, so I'm just looking forward to getting better each and every day," said safety Bryan Cook. "I'm trying to be a sponge, soaking up all the information from my coaches and teammates. If I can be the best sponge that I can be, that's a successful [camp] in my eyes."
That mindset is important, because months and months of draft boards and projections no longer matter. In fact, almost all of the players in this weekend's camp weren't even drafted and are fighting to simply remain in town. For the Chiefs' drafted players, that competition meant that they needed to show up ready to go, and at least so far, they appear ready for the challenge.
"I think all the guys here are just ready to work. We're ready to work, earn our stripes, get better and earn the respect of everyone in this organization – teammates, coaches, fans and everyone else," said defensive end George Karlaftis. "That's really it. We're here to get better and help the team win in whatever role [necessary]."
For what it's worth, there's something unique about this year's draft class, notably their rapid familiarity with one another despite only becoming teammates a few weeks ago. It was evident at the Chiefs' Season Ticket Member "Draft Fest" event earlier this month, and that camaraderie has clearly carried over to rookie minicamp.
"This class is definitely coming in trying to prove a point," McDuffie said. "Everybody is very confident, and we already have a brotherhood. I feel like I've known these guys for a while, even though I only met them the other day. It's a unique group, and they're willing to do the work. That's something that I know I can do, and I love to be a part of it."
Nothing is given at this point for the Chiefs' rookie class. Whether it be highly-drafted players like McDuffie and Karlaftis or one of the dozens of individuals participating solely on a tryout basis, everything at this juncture is earned at the team facility. Luckily, while it's only been a few days, this year's class of rookies appears hungrier than ever.
"We have a lot to prove," said linebacker Leo Chenal. "With how much success Kansas City has had already, we just want to do our best to help in any way that we can."