The Kansas City Chiefs visited with the media on Thursday afternoon for the final time before this Saturday’s preseason contest against the San Francisco 49ers at Arrowhead Stadium.
Head Coach Andy Reid shared that the plan is for the starting units to play the first half and possibly into the third quarter on Saturday in preparation for the regular-season opener in just a few weeks.
In injury news, wide receiver Gehrig Dieter (back), cornerback Michael Hunter (groin), tight end John Lovett (shoulder), defensive tackle Breeland Speaks (knee) and tight end Deon Yelder (ankle sprain) didn’t take the field on Thursday.
Here’s what stood out from the afternoon’s pressers, which included Reid and wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
1. Reid talked about rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman and the progress the second-round pick has made since joining the team last spring.
"He has grown a lot since we first got him here. Figuring it all out. I like his progress. He has attacked it,” Reid said. “We talk about where he started and where he's at now, it’s a completely different level. You can tell by the respect that he gets from the guys and the respect he has in return for the veteran players. They've accepted him in there and he has worked hard to gain all of that respect."
Hardman – who the Chiefs acquired with the No. 56 overall pick last April – has three catches for 48 yards and two touchdowns in two games of preseason action, showing off his elite speed in both.
2. Elsewhere on offense, Reid explained the Chiefs’ situation at left guard with Andrew Wylie and Cam Erving both getting some work at the position.
"[Erving] has been working [there] this week. We had [Andrew] Wylie there, and we feel like both of the guys are starters - you just don't have enough spots,” Reid said. “We let Wylie work some at tackle this week and put Cam in at guard this week to give him some shots there. Listen, they're all going to play. That's how it's worked out here. You can't have enough of those guys. Those two, like I said, we consider starters and we feel comfortable. We want to make sure we get Cam some good, condensed work in there at guard. He'll get some work there Saturday night."
Wylie started 10 games at right guard last season following an injury to Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and impressed, earning the Chiefs’ Mack Lee Hill First-Year Player of the Year Award following the campaign. The versatile Erving, meanwhile, started 13 games at left guard in 2018 while also demonstrating an ability to play elsewhere on the line if needed.
It appears as if both players will get a shot to be the starting left guard this season, but as Coach Reid said, it’s likely each of them sees plenty of action this year regardless of who gets the initial nod.
3. Reid also touched on the performance of rookie tailback Darwin Thompson, who has 81 yards of total offense on 10 touches this preseason.
Thompson has earned himself some reps with the first-team of late due to his impressive play as the Chiefs sift through what they have at the running back position.
"We've kind of given all four of [our running backs] an opportunity to jump in there over the last three weeks. This gives him an opportunity to work in,” Reid said. “The hardest thing for rookie running backs is just the blitz game - picking the blitzes up. He understands the run-game and kind of what's going on there, and he has picked up on the pass-game pretty easily, but the actual protection – he has to get in there and you have to see him. You have to go through that. We've given each guy a condensed amount of blitz package there that they’ve had to deal with, and we did that with him. We gave him a shot in there to see what he can do this week."
4. Watkins, meanwhile, was asked to share his thoughts on the offense with expectations higher than ever.
“We have to keep getting better. We just have to continue to keep doing what coach wants us to do, keep detailing everything, be on the same page and not get complacent,” Watkins said. “We have a lot of guys who can go out and make plays and run around and catch balls. We have to continue to hone in each week - every day - and focus on the now. We can’t look ahead or focus on the playoffs or anything of that sort. Just focus on the now and continue to come to work every day.”
The Chiefs posted the third-best offense of all-time last season in terms of points per game, but the message all offseason has still been one of improvement. Some of that comes along with Kansas City’s rookie class – players like Hardman and Thompson, for example – but while there’s a considerable buzz around the Chiefs’ young players, Watkins emphasized that the new kids aren’t the only ones getting better out at practice.
“I think all of us have been getting better, not just the young guys,” Watkins said. “We’re still kind of young in this offense and all of us have been getting better communicating and trying to help each other out with releases, coverages and stuff like that. [The] coaches [are] getting on us, [so] there’s no choice but to get better.”
5. Watkins believes that includes quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who posted one of the best seasons ever by a signal caller a year ago.
Mahomes became just the second player ever to pass for 50+ touchdowns and 5,000+ yards in a single season last year on his way to the league MVP award, but with the 2019 campaign now on the horizon, the ultimate question is how the 23-year-old can follow up his record-shattering performance.
If you ask Watkins, there’s little doubt that Mahomes can do it again.
“Of course,” Watkins said. “I think with the coaches that we have, the players, the plays and with that foundation here with Coach Reid and his staff, if we continue to do what we have been doing - coming out here, [watching] film, taking care of our bodies, Pat staying as humble as he has and being a leader - he’ll do fine.”
The Chiefs continue the preseason on Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers.