The Kansas City Chiefs kicked off "Phase Three" of the offseason training program at the team facility this week as the reigning Super Bowl champions took another step toward the 2023 season.
"Phase Three" of the program marks a significant step in the process due to the fact that it permits for 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills for the first time since last season ended. Up until this point, organized practices at the team facility were limited to individual, positional and "perfect play" drills. That's no longer the case, as this week's practices – while absent of live contact – included drills that saw the offense and defense compete against one another.
"It's good to get out and go against each other with the rules that are given and see the guys move around a little bit and compete," said Head Coach Andy Reid. "We have a lot of numbers and we have some young guys that we're mixing in with the [starters], so it should be great competition."
These voluntary practices – called Organized Team Activities (OTAs) – will continue over the next two weeks before a three-day, mandatory minicamp gets underway on June 13. Those practices operate under the same rules, but unlike OTAs, every member of the roster is required to be in attendance.
Regardless, while the practices currently taking place at the team facility are voluntary and of the lighter variety, this time of year is where the foundation for a successful season is built.
"It's just [about] building those relationships. We've had a lot of turnover on this team over the last few years, [but] I think you've seen that we're still a close-knit group, and I think that just comes with almost everybody being here for OTAs," said quarterback Patrick Mahomes. "We build those relationships, and I think that's what makes us a great football team. I mean, everyone's talented in this league, but I think when you have guys that are all on the same page – offense, defense and special teams – that's what takes you to the next level."
All three days of mandatory minicamp will be open to the media, but in the meantime, the majority of the Chiefs' OTA practices will take place behind closed doors. Three OTA dates were designated for the media, however, beginning with Wednesday's practice. The other two, which will also include press conferences after the fact, will be on June 1 and June 8.
In terms of what took place during Wednesday's practice, here are a few quick notes:
- Defensive back Nazeeh Johnson recorded an impressive pass breakup in coverage during 7-on-7 drills.
- Tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire tallied a great catch on a wheel route deep down the sideline during 7-on-7. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes made a beautiful throw on the play.
- Rookie defensive back Chamarri Conner notched an athletic pass breakup during 11-on-11 drills.
- Veteran wide receiver Justin Watson made a tremendous, contested catch in the end zone on one of the final plays of practice.
Wednesday's media session was also interesting for a handful of reasons as it marked the first time that the team spoke in an official capacity since rookie minicamp three weeks ago.
Here are a few items that stood out:
1) Reid revealed that the Chiefs plan to utilize their deep group of tight ends to fill the role previously held by fullback Michael Burton (and Anthony Sherman before him).
"The tight ends can work into that spot," Reid said. "We know Noah [Gray] can do all of that, and that's kind of where we went with it. We have a number of tight ends that we feel comfortable with, so maybe you keep an extra tight end as opposed to that fullback."
This is significant considering that Reid employed a fullback in each of the last 10 seasons in Kansas City. It appears the strategy is now shifting entering 2023.
2) Mahomes shared his early thoughts on the Chiefs' current group of wide receivers after having a chance to work with them over the last several weeks.
"I think we're deep. I think that's the biggest thing. Usually, you have a good feel for who the guys are going to be and everything like that, but with this group, it's like [I can see a path for every single guy making the team]," Mahomes said. "That's what you want. You want that competition. Even the young guys who have stepped in have done a lot of great things, and guys from other systems have stepped in and done great things. So, [there's] a lot of competition in that room that will play out through OTAs and camp, but I'm happy with where we're at in that receiving room."
The Chiefs currently employ 12 wide receivers on the roster. For a look at the entire group currently under contract, click here.
3) Lastly, new Chiefs' offensive tackle Donovan Smith explained how things have been going during his first few practices in the red and gold.
The Chiefs signed Smith earlier this month and have stated that he'll have an opportunity to earn the starting job at left tackle during the offseason training program. It appears that the veteran offensive lineman is still getting acclimated to his new team after spending eight seasons with Tampa Bay, but by the sounds of it, things are going well so far.
"It's been great. Obviously, you see why they're a championship team with the way that they prepare from top to bottom – coaches to players," Smith said. "It's good to see. The locker room is good. You obviously see the camaraderie that they have – [everybody is] hanging out with each other. I'm kind of just feeling my way around and figuring some things out [right now], but other than that, everything's been smooth."
Smith, Mahomes and the rest of the Chiefs' roster will continue building the foundation for the 2023 campaign as OTAs kick into high gear at the team facility over the next two weeks.