I love going to Chiefs Training Camp. It has become an annual tradition for me. This is now my third consecutive year attending camp in St. Joseph. Since I live in the Wichita area its not a long trip. The first year I went by myself, last year my dad came along with me, and this year my step brother joined my dad and I. If you’re a true “Addict” when it comes to the Chiefs it can’t be beat. For the price of gas and $5 to park you get to see the players we all love up close and personal. There is something about seeing Jamaal Charles ten feet away from you that brings them to life in a way that seeing them on TV or from the upper deck of Arrowhead (if you can afford front row, 50 yard line seats, God bless you) just can’t do. So if you have been wavering on wether or not you should do it. Stop wavering and get yourself to St. Joe.
Side note: If you go with friends/family and plan out a few good stops for some grub it makes the whole experience even better. We hit The Blind Tiger Brewery and Restaurant for dinner Saturday night in Topeka and then went through KC after camp to hit Arthur Bryant’s BBQ for lunch (Oklahoma Joe’s isn’t open on Sundays). You add a brewery, KC BBQ, and good company to getting to see your favorite team play and now you have yourself a pretty good weekend. But I digress…..
You aren’t reading this post to find out what I had to drink at the brewery (Tiger Paw Porter) or what I got at Arthur Bryant’s (Burnt Ends and Sausage). You want to know about what I saw on the practice field. So let’s get to it.
Let me start with a disclaimer. I have only seen one day of camp under each of Todd Haley, Romeo Crennel, and Andy Reid. One day can be an aberration. I don’t claim to know exactly what each coaches’ camp is like. I’m simply giving my impressions based off the snap shot of each that I observed.
Of the three days I observed, Romeo Crennel’s was by FAR the least impressive. To be honest, last year’s trip to camp was pretty boring. Maybe it was a down day, maybe Crennel didn’t push them hard enough, but it was a let down after the year before. I came away from Haley’s training camp visit two years ago impressed. It seemed like they covered a lot of material and he seemed to be pushing the players to give good effort. However, that was the year of the lock out and his bizarre no hitting, get conditioned, ease into the season approach that blew up in his face. My general impression was that Reid’s camp was a lot more like Haley’s than like Romeo’s with one important addition.
Andy Reid’s demeanor.
I was very impressed by Reid. He was much more animated and fiery than my preconceived notion of him that was based on what I’ve seen from him in interviews and on the sideline of Eagles games. That drive and energy was what reminded me of Haley’s camp. However, Reid is clearly a better teacher than Haley. Reid would get after the team as a whole, but when a player would do something wrong, instead of yelling at him he would pull him aside and really coach him. Every player that I saw him do this with seemed to be 100% tuned in to what Reid was saying. He clearly had their attention and respect. That was possibly the most encouraging part of the entire day. This young but talented team needs coaching, and Reid is giving them just that.
Three other coaching notes:
Doug Pederson seems to already have a great relationship with the QBs. At one point all the other positions were working at the other end of the field and we stayed at the far end to watch the QBs throw some balls at a net target with Pederson. Pederson was coaching them and telling them what he wanted but had a very relaxed approach and the QBs were laughing and giving each other a hard time when they missed their mark. I get the feeling that while Reid is pretty intense and serious out on the field, Pederson may be trying to keep them loose. For a group of guys that had never worked together before this offseason they seemed to have good chemistry. It was definitely a different vibe then I saw from the QBs during the last two camps.
Assistant DB coach Al Harris is really out there coaching. Harris just recently retired from the NFL and I made the wrong assumption that Harris would basically shadow Emmitt Thomas and do whatever grunt work he wanted. That wasn’t the case at all. I saw Harris in the ear of the DBs more than any other position coach with their players on Sunday.
The final coaching note involves new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. Today was the first day in full pads. The very first 11 on 11 drills that they ran he was sending blitzes from all over. Linebackers, safeties, cornerbacks, he sent them all. On multiple occasions he sent two defensive backs from the same edge to overload the protection on that side. It was WAY more aggressive than anything I saw in camp the past two years and this was the first day with pads during the first 11 on 11 drills. I also found it interesting that he was rotating players almost every play even within units. What I mean by that is that he didn’t just send one group of players out as “the first unit” and let them run a few plays and then send in the “second string unit”, etc. After one play, he would change up the personnel within that unit. This rotation of players, fronts, and blitzes from different places should keep opposing offenses on their toes. It was another encouraging sign.
I’ll use that as a segue to my first major concern, offensive line depth. It’s normal for defenses to start camp ahead of offenses. That doesn’t concern me. However, the second and third string offensive lines had a total of one player that looked like he belonged on an NFL roster, Donald Stephenson. Stephenson had a good day and looks like an excellent swing tackle off the bench. However, with Jeff Allen out I didn’t like what I saw from anybody else. The second and third string lines almost never produced a pocket for Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray, or Ricky Stanzi to stand in. It was just a jumbled mash of bodies that a defender or two would pop out of after a split second. I watched Eric Kush for a while, and it looks like there is potential there, but if Hudson goes down again I wouldn’t want him starting this season. At one point he was standing next to Dontari Poe and he looked more like a LB than an offensive lineman. He looks like a practice squad developmental guy to me. That’s about it. The word is that Jeff Allen isn’t seriously hurt, and that’s good, because this team is a few offensive line injuries away from being in trouble. After watching camp for one day I would feel better if they added another veteran interior lineman to the mix.
That having been said, the starting offensive line looked pretty good. I think Geoff Schwartz will earn the starting LG spot even if Allen is back soon. He looked good. He has the size and good feet of a tackle, but seemed to anchor well at the guard position. Eric Fisher, while not perfect, doesn’t look too overwhelmed as a rookie starting against some pretty good pass rushers. For his first full pad practice, that’s not too bad. The starters were able to give Alex Smith a nice pocket at times. Usually when pressure got to Smith it wasn’t because one of the starters got beat by their man it was because Sutton sent someone and the line was over run at a certain point of attack. That can be improved with communication and bonding as a unit. Their individual blocking ability looked good to me.
While we’re talking about the “big guys” let’s talk defensive line. I started off watching Dontari Poe a lot. I thought he looked good. I would say he appeared to be picking up where he left off late last season. At times he looks really good, but occasionally he gets taken out of plays. While I wasn’t blown away with his performance, if he can pick up where he ended last season and keep improving, I think he’ll be in good shape. I tried to watch Jerrell Powe some as well. He’s kind of like Poe Jr. He might not be quite as physically impressive as Poe, but he’s not far behind him either. I also feel like he was in much better shape to start camp then what I saw in previous camps. On Sunday he was the exclusive #2 NT with Anthony Toribio running with the threes.
The final DL guy that caught my eye was Austen Lane. Lane is a free agent that KC signed after he was released by the Jaguars. First off, he’s a very smart and funny guy. I know this because he actually filled in for Peter King on his MMQB column while King was on vacation. He’s since written another piece for King’s new MMQB website about what it’s like to get cut in the NFL. If this wasn’t enough reason to like Lane, his hustle on the field seals the deal. He may not be the most talented player on the field, but there wasn’t a single player on Sunday that outworked him. His non stop motor and athleticism (he’s in great shape) makes him a pass rush threat. He’s MUCH leaner than any of the other defensive linemen on the team and I don’t see any way he could hold up as a starting 3-4 DE. However, I think there may be room for him as a sub package pass rusher. Then to top it all off he stayed on the field after practice was over all by himself (not even a coach working with him) and did some technique work with a blocking sled. I think I have found the guy I am most pulling for to make the team this year and his name is Austen Lane.
In the quest for objectivity, I’ll counter that positive with a negative. I’ll again say that this was just one practice and that I haven’t heard a single other camp report say what I’m about to…… I was really disappointed in Sean Smith. He was the anti-Austen Lane out there on the field Sunday. He just didn’t seem like he was giving full effort a lot of times. During individual DB drills Eric Berry would ALWAYS jump up and be the first DB to go. Smith would hang around until the end of the group and then seemed to just go through the motions. I saw him give up on plays in 11 on 11 at the earliest indication that the ball wasn’t coming his way. He seemed to be just coasting by on his size and natural athleticism. Imagine the CB version of Jon Baldwin from last regular season, that’s what I saw from Smith on Sunday. He did have a few good jams at the line of scrimmage, but when you have 4 inches and 20 lbs on a WR you should be able to jam them up. I hope Smith was just having a bad day. Maybe he was banged up. Maybe he was under the weather. Maybe his dog just died. I don’t know. I was really excited about his addition and this one practice left me disappointed.
Other DB notes:
For the second practice already Dunta Robinson had to leave with some sort of leg/cramp/strain issue. As a trainer was walking him away from the full team to go over where the other banged up players were working Dunta veered over to coach Reid and said something to him. It looked like he was explaining what was wrong. Coach Reid said something to him as he was walking away and Dunta hollered back at him “I know! You’re my dog!” It got a laugh from the crowd nearby.
The three reserve DBs that flashed the most in practice Sunday were safeties Quintin Demps and Tysyn Hartman and CB Vince Agnew (I know, I had never heard of him either). Demps and Hartman were flying all over the field and were the most physical DBs out there not named Eric Berry. At the start of drills Demps even yelled at the crowd to “wake up” and try to get the energy of practice up. Both of them bring value as special teams coverage unit guys so if they continue to show well at safety too they could easily win roster spots. I went into camp thinking that Husain Abdullah might challenge Kendrick Lewis for a starting spot, but Lewis was the clear starter at this point and Abdullah would be behind Demps and Hartman on my depth chart after watching one practice. Vince Agnew is a second year CB out of Central Michigan that spent time on the Cowboys roster last year. He actually filled in some with the first string after Robinson went to work with the trainers. I was expecting him to get torched, but he held his own. I found it interesting that he already appears to be ahead of Jalil Brown (who didn’t show a lot on Sunday). I also watched Neiko Thorpe some by request, and although his effort is great and seems to really listen to the coaches, he simply didn’t flash like these other reserves that I mentioned.
One position battle that I wanted to watch but sadly don’t have much to report on is the battle between Nico Johnson and Akeem Jordan at ILB. I tried to watch them both as much as possible but neither player really stuck out as playing well or playing poorly. It wasn’t from lack of effort, but I simply didn’t get a feel for either player based on this one practice. The fact that neither made any great plays that I saw isn’t very exciting news, but the fact that I didn’t see either of them get beat badly either is a positive I guess.
Another disappointment for me was Chase Daniel. Chase Daniel made Alex Smith look like Joe Freaking Flacco. Seriously, the guy looks fine if he’s throwing the ball less than 10 yards, but beyond that it was NOT PRETTY. Smith completed multiple passes down field. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but I stand by what I’ve said in other posts that Alex Smith’s arm strength, while not amazing, won’t be a big problem. Daniel, on the other hand, looked like Tyler Palko when throwing beyond 20 yards. Ricky Stanzi is in trouble. He makes just as many mistakes as Tyler Bray does but Bray is a rookie and throws a MUCH prettier ball. Seriously, I wouldn’t want Bray playing for KC this season because I don’t think there is any way he’ll be ready mentally, but in terms of just how the ball looks when it comes out of his hand, it’s the most impressive looking ball of any QB in camp.
As far as the running backs go, Jamaal Charles was Jamaal Charles, Cyrus Gray and Shaun Draughn were both pretty “meh”, and Kniles Davis looked GREAT when he had the ball in his hands with room to move. Seriously, next to Jamaal and maybe Dexter McCluster nobody looks better running than Davis. The problem is there have already been reports out of camp of fumbles, dropped passes, and muffed kick returns and we’re only in the first week of camp. If Davis can just get the ball in his hands and keep it there he’ll be a great weapon for this team. If he can’t, then he will be a giant waste of talent and a draft pick.
The tight ends were a fun group to watch. I came away impressed with Anthony Fasano, Tony Moeaki, Travis Kelce, and Demetrius Harris. Fasano showed softer hands than I expected and made a few nice grabs. Moeaki seemed to be moving much better than last season coming off his ACL injury. Kelce had a fantastic grab where he was crushed between two defenders but still ripped the ball away from them and came up with the catch. It was the most impressive catch of the day. Demetrius Harris is the undrafted rookie that played college basketball. Watching him play you would NEVER think that he hasn’t played football since high school. I know there has been a lot of talk about Moeaki being in trouble if Harris looked good but Moeaki looked great to me and got every bit as much action with the first string as Fasano and Kelce did. If I had to guess today after seeing one practice I’d say KC uses Fasano, Moeaki, and Kelce on a regular basis and tries to hide Harris on the practice squad. KC has GREAT depth at this position now.
Last, but not least, the wide receivers. The person most people want to know about is Jon Baldwin. Here’s what I’ll say about Baldwin. He still has major flaws to work through. That having been said, Baldwin, McCluster, and Dwayne Bowe were the only WRs that worked exclusively with the first string on Sunday. They seem to be giving Baldwin every opportunity to make it. The most encouraging thing I observed from him was his attitude. Last preseason his attitude was “Look at me, I’m a beast!” We all bought it. We thought he would have a huge year and he stunk up the joint. This year he seemed more humble. He looked like a guy that knew he needed to get better and was working at it. He still needs to run better routes, get off the line, and bring in the ball with two hands, but if he now knows that and is willing to work at it, that’s huge. Baldwin has all the talent in the world and if Reid and company can get it out of him, watch out.
Donnie Avery was a bit of a disappointment for me. He didn’t look bad, but he didn’t stand out at all either. The only time he stood out was when he couldn’t get to a deep sideline throw and kicked out one of the end-zone pile-ons in frustration. He got less first string reps on Sunday than Junior Hemmingway (who looked very sure handed) and about the same number as Terrance Copper (who didn’t look too bad either). Again, just one practice, but off that practice did Avery look like the answer to KC’s #2 WR problem? No. Based off Sunday, Baldwin looked like the better option at #2.
Dexter McCluster looked very good in the slot and based off this one practice looks like he could be featured in this offense. Devon Wylie had a couple nice plays, but if they only keep one small slot guy on the active roster I don’t see any way he would beat out Dexter.
The only other WR that stood out to me was undrafted free agent Rico Richardson. Richardson is listed at 6’1″ and 185 on the KC website, but he looked smaller out there on the field to me. However, he makes up for his smaller stature with great speed and quickness. On one play he absolutely torched Jalil Brown and would have had an easy TD if Chase Daniel hadn’t thrown the ugliest wobbling duck deep ball of the day. To his credit, Richardson adjusted to the ball and ended up diving back towards the line of scrimmage and still making the grab. He also fielded kicks at the beginning of practice. The WR position appears to have some roster spots up for grabs and Richardson made a strong case for consideration on Sunday.
I think that pretty well wraps things up. I think I included a little bit on everybody that people requested in my post on Saturday. If you have more questions about what I saw I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments section below. In closing I’ll just say that I had a blast at camp and encourage everyone to go check it out if you can. I also came away from camp feeling pretty positive about this season. There are still lots of questions to be answered, but the Chiefs seem to be off to a good start.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!