A rainy morning didn’t keep the Kansas City Chiefs – or the more than 6,000 fans that came out to watch – from hitting the outdoor practice fields at training camp on Wednesday morning in preparation for this weekend’s preseason matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Highlights from practice included the return of tailback Damien Williams after missing time with a hamstring injury, an impressive morning catching the ball from wide receiver Tyreek Hill and yet another strong performance from rookie safety Juan Thornhill.
Following practice, Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, cornerback Charvarius Ward and offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz met with the media. Here’s what stood out from their pressers.
1. With so many young players on defense, Spagnuolo was asked if there was a player or two in particular that he was looking forward to watching during Saturday night’s preseason contest.
"It's hard to pick anyone in particular out. Certainly, we want to see Juan Thornhill in there and [defensive tackle] Khalen [Saunders] - the guys that we drafted- but there have been a bunch of guys that have surfaced,” Spagnuolo said. “To me, I just would like to see all of them give great effort and tackle. I'll be looking for that and the same thing in the young guys, too."
Spagnuolo - who is entering his first season with Kansas City - later stressed cohesiveness and communication as two of the major things he’ll be looking for from the defense when the Chiefs take the field on Saturday.
2. One familiar face amidst all of the changes on defense this offseason is Ward, who is entering his second campaign with the Chiefs after impressing down the stretch in 2018.
Spagnuolo was asked to speak specifically about the 23-year-old Ward on Wednesday.
"The message to him, quite frankly in a lot of practices here, has been to play all out and finish,” Spagnuolo said. “We had that one-on-one drill down in the red zone - it's an offensive drill and there are no offensive linemen in front of them – so, that's a tough haul for the defensive backs. I'd just like to see them finish and try to poke the ball out. All we're concerned about is the result. If he catches it but we rip it out and it's incomplete, that's a good result. Really finishing, that's been the motto for all of the corners. [Defensive Backs / Cornerbacks Coach] Sam [Madison] has been preaching it. [Defensive Backs Coach] Dave [Merritt] has been preaching it. Charvarius has been in that same group."
Ward made the first start of his young career in Week 16 against the Seattle Seahawks last season and - after some early growing pains – went on to tally a team-high four passes defensed in Kansas City’s postseason victory over Indianapolis.
He’s certainly a guy to be excited about moving forward as the Chiefs’ young defense evolves under Spagnuolo.
3. In fact, Ward spoke about his mindset heading into this season as opposed to this time last year when he was just breaking into the league.
“I have a year of experience under my belt,” Ward said. “I know what it feels like to play in the playoffs and play against the best players, so I have to raise my game to the next level.”
Ward has certainly come a long way since coming over in a trade with the Dallas Cowboys during the preseason last year, and now with some experience in tow, Ward credited the electric crowd at camp with pushing him to take the next step.
“It’s motivation for sure. I mean, they’re excited for the season and we are as well,” Ward said. “We’re ready to go and they’re ready to go.”
4. Schwartz, meanwhile, discussed his inclusion in the annual NFL Top 100 rankings for the first time earlier this summer. The seven-year veteran checked in at No. 94.
“It was awesome. I had no expectation for that. I didn’t know it was even starting, but it was really cool. It kind of blew my mind that I could be a part of that and I am grateful for everyone who voted for me,” Schwartz said. “It’s one of those things where some guys might say it doesn’t mean much, but everyone wants to be recognized whether it’s being a good player or being the best at your position, any of those things. When those come in, it’s just really awesome, and like I said, I am grateful that the guys put me on that list.”
It was an honor that was certainly overdue for the All-Pro right tackle, who hasn’t missed an offensive snap in his career and was named the top offensive lineman in football last season by the folks at Pro Football Focus.
5. And now with a new campaign on the horizon, Schwartz was asked how an established veteran such as himself approaches the first preseason game.
“Protect Pat [Mahomes] and protect the running backs - I mean, you just go do your job,” Schwartz explained. “Every week of the preseason and as the season progresses, the speed kind of picks up. There is a little bit of acclamation there and getting that up to speed. I think - well you obviously aren’t game-planning the whole week - but just studying everybody. Some teams play starters and some don’t, so you don’t always know who you are going against. You try to watch film of really all of the defensive ends and it’s just about going out there. Typically, the playbooks are a little simpler, so it’s core plays and you can block up against any look. You just want to go and block someone else well. You still have to protect Pat, as well as everyone else. You treat it very real.”
Schwartz and the rest of the Chiefs will have their first shot at real football in just a few more days.