The Kansas City Chiefs returned to practice on Sunday morning to the applause of yet another sprawling crowd as the team continued preparations for the 2019 campaign.
Highlights from practice included an interception by second-year safety Armani Watts, a strong all-around day from rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman and a 65-yard field goal by kicker Harrison Butker.
For additional analysis from practice, check out BJ Kissel’s Five Observations video below.
In terms of injuries, defensive ends Alex Okafor (hip) and Emmanuel Ogbah (oblique) each left practice early on Sunday.
Following practice, Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and center Austin Reiter met with the media.
Here are five things stood out.
1. With the Chiefs set to take the field for the first time this preseason on Saturday, Bieniemy was asked if there were any players in particular he was excited to see in a game situation.
"You know what, it's hard for me to just pick and choose who I want to see. I’m fired up about seeing our guys just go out and play against a different opponent,” Bieniemy said. “You get un-scouted looks, you get an opportunity to watch our guys run around, see who can play and who can react against a different opponent. So, I'm fired up obviously about our starters going out there, but more importantly, I'm fired up about seeing the young guys go out there and just play football."
It remains to be seen how playing time will be divvied up on Saturday when the Chiefs take on the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium, but for a bunch of the guys that have been putting in work up at training camp, the contest will represent the first real chance to demonstrate what they can do.
2. That includes the Chiefs’ stable of running backs behind Damien Williams, who has missed time up at camp with a hamstring injury.
With Williams out of action, tailbacks Carlos Hyde, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson, Josh Caldwell, Marcus Marshall and the newly-transitioned Tremon Smith have been seeing more time on the field.
Bieniemy – who served as the Chiefs’ running backs coach before taking over as offensive coordinator last season - spoke about the progress of that group in Williams’ stead.
"I think they all have stepped up. We've watched some flashes of Carlos. We've watched some flashes of young Darwin. We've also seen steady-eddy, No. 31 [Darrel Williams]. [He] does a heck of a job, and then we've got the young kids - [Marshall] and [Caldwell] - that are stepping up. Then we've got this new kid, [Smith], who was lined up at corner a couple of days ago,” Bieniemy said. “Every time you find a way to put [Smith] in there, he just flashes. Tremon has accepted the challenge. He's doing a very, very good job of learning. [Running Backs Coach Deland McCullough] is doing a great job of working with those guys and getting them to understand what we we're doing, and it's showing."
3. And with the Chiefs’ first preseason contest inching closer, each of those players will soon have an opportunity to perform against a live opponent.
When asked about the importance of seeing the running backs play on Saturday, Bieniemy spoke about the opportunity each of them has with Williams currently unavailable.
"Without some bad luck, some of us wouldn't have any good luck at all. So, what does that mean? You have other guys having an opportunity to get more reps. That's important,” Bieniemy said. “With those guys earning the reps that they've gotten, it’s giving them a lot of experience and they're doing some good things. We want to see them continue with the progress. Are we satisfied with where we are as a running back group? No, not yet. But we want those guys to continue to fight and continue to strain and see who can come alive and be that guy when it's all said and done."
4. Elsewhere on offense, Robinson was asked to discuss what he worked on this offseason in preparation for an expanded role in 2019.
“I would say I just got in the playbook more learning extra positions,” Robinson said. “Learning what the quarterback is thinking, learning what he’s doing and just getting acquainted with what he was thinking of doing on the field.”
Robinson was often at his best last season when the play broke down, such as on quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ famed no-look pass against the Baltimore Ravens or his 50th touchdown pass against the Oakland Raiders. He’s developed a reputation already for finding a way to get open when Mahomes needs to get rid of the ball, and his apparent focus this offseason should only improve that.
5. Reiter, meanwhile, discussed what the offensive line is looking to accomplish during Saturday’s preseason contest.
“Firm pocket protection is No. 1,” Reiter said. “In the run game, [we need to] move people off the line of scrimmage, have people down field and have good conversion rates on first and second downs.”
The contest will mark the Chiefs’ first action since narrowly falling to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last January, and when asked if there has been a point of emphasis this offseason to take that next step, Reiter’s answer was simple enough.
“Just a couple of things, but I think the first one would be to just be great,” Reiter said. “You know when we get in those moments like Coach said, be great. The AFC Championship, we need to bring that trophy home.”
The journey to that goal is already well underway.