Four days of Chiefs training camp have come and gone. I have traveled to St. Joseph every day. Here are five takeaways:
1. Alex Smith, man on fire.
If you haven’t seen the movie “Man on Fire,” Denzel Washington plays a former assassin-turned bodyguard who is hired by a wealthy family to watch their adorable little daughter, Pita. Well, long story short, bad guys abduct Pita and Washington scorches the Earth to get her back. I won’t spoil the end for you.
Before I say what I’m about to say, I need to state the obvious … things you’ve heard many times before: the first two days were without pads, training camp favors the offense and quarterbacks literally wear bright yellow jerseys so they don’t get touched.
I’m aware of all that.
But these are things the quarterbacks can’t control – it is what it is, and right now, it’s all we have. So, with that said, here goes:
Alex Smith showed up in St. Joseph looking like Denzel Washington in “Man on Fire.”
In team periods, Smith looks more accurate (he was a perfect 7-for-7 to start opening day), he’s taking more shots downfield and he’s got a fire and swagger to his game that I don’t think I’ve seen while covering my first three training camps in St. Joseph.
Imagine if you were doing your everyday job, and then, all of a sudden, your company hired an intern you had to help train that almost assuredly will be kicking you out of your office within the next three seasons.
Alex Smith has had such an underappreciated career.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) July 31, 2017
No. 1 pick
157 TD, 91 INT
12 TD, 2 INT in playoffs
2x Pro Bowl
Competition brings out the best in everyone, and whether he’ll ever say it or not, it has in Smith.
2. A once “easy-to-predict” wide receiver room is suddenly, uh, rather crowded
Following the surprise cut of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, I sort of felt predicting which Chiefs receivers would make the 53-man roster was fairly easy.
With the Chiefs typically keeping six receivers, I had: Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley, Jehu Chesson (duh), Albert Wilson, De’Anthony Thomas and Demarcus Robinson.
But Seantavius Jones got me feeling some sorta way.
Here's a look at the first of three nice catches from WR Seantavius Jones (6'3", 200 lbs) today. The other two were contested. pic.twitter.com/UgW5yXojPi— BJ Kissel (@ChiefsReporter) July 29, 2017
Through four days of camp, I can recall seeing Jones drop one single pass thrown his way, a high ball from Tyler Bray on Monday. Other than that, the ball has been sticking to his hands, and he’s been getting looks with the first team.
“We’ve kind of seen him grow a little bit to where he’s given himself a chance to get in there and work with the ones, at least in the rotation,” Andy Reid said Sunday. “Again, it’s important that he maintains that. He’s done some nice things, but now the defense goes and studies him. They watch some tape, now what are you going to come back with. Can you sustain this? That will be his challenge.”
This is a tendency of Reid that is very consistent, and it’s part of what makes him a great coach—he won’t publicly get too high on anybody, and he won’t ever publicly blame any one player when things may go wrong. But note—Jones is one to watch.
So has Hawaii undrafted rookie Marcus Kemp, who has become a go-to receiver for Patrick Mahomes with the offense’s third team.
Mahomes is showing off the arm right now, finishes drive with deep pass to Marcus Kemp. One on one situation, Kemp comes down w/ it. TD.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) July 31, 2017
So where does this leave the receiver group?
3. There are a number of positions that are emerging as battles.
Speaking of position battles, a few have caught my eye at camp so far.
Bryan Witzmann, who the Chiefs signed to a contract extension four days ago, has been getting the most snaps at the starting left guard position in an otherwise set line. Zach Fulton has been mixing in here and there but Witzmann is the man for now. Also, don’t forget second-year offensive lineman Parker Ehinger, who started 2016 as the team’s starting left guard, exists.
As offensive drills begin, second-year OL Parker Ehinger continues to rehab on the side. pic.twitter.com/JeCDJg6WRp— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) July 29, 2017
For anyone who still thinks Smith could be dethroned as the starter, scroll up and read point one again. Then, if you still don’t believe me, listen to our podcast. Smith will be the starter this year, but I think QB2 is very much up for grabs. So far, Bray has taken all the second-team reps, but Mahomes has shown flashes of greatness, including key touchdown conversions on two-minute drills and 88-yard, 11-on-11 drives. That said, Bray has many times looked the part, and I feel preseason play will be very important here.
Right now, from what I’ve seen I predict the one-two for this Chiefs team will be Spencer Ware-Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs know what they have in Ware, and he is the bruiser he is. Hunt offers a little bit more variety—he’s quick, explosive and can catch passes, including ones that only require one hand:
That leaves me to RB3. The 29-year-old CJ Spiller has impressed me in camp, and although Charcandrick West does look a step faster, there’s a battle here. West isn’t helped by the fact that he was held out of practice Monday (update: and Tuesday) with an ankle injury.
This is a three-man race between the incumbent Demetrius Harris, veteran Gavin Escobar and returner Ross Travis. Of the three, I’ve been most impressed with what I’ve seen from Travis, but he’s had good training camps before. Prior to camp, I called Escobar an under-the-radar player to watch, and he’s been solid. I see the Chiefs keeping all four tight ends regardless, but the secondary nod intrigues me.
This position battle feels like a WWE Royal Rumble (a match with 30 wrestlers with one winner), with many players vying for who will start at the “Mike” position next to Derrick Johnson. Ramik Wilson has looked to be in the lead through four days, but Justin March-Lillard, Josh Mauga, rookie Ukeme Eligwe and even newcomer Kevin Pierre-Louis have all seen action.
4. Steve Nelson is very good as a slot defender.
I called Steve Nelson a breakout candidate before camp and through four days, I still feel good about it. The buzz around Kansas City has been the emergence of Tyreek Hill as a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
Marcus Peters, who has been beaten by Hill a number of times in camp, called him a “technically sound” receiver, and Reid had some very complimentary words for him.
“He’s blessed with pretty good hands, but consistency and keeping them in a position that you can catch the football,” Reid said. “So defenders are trying to knock your hands down, neutralize your inside arm, all of these things with hand slaps. So trying to get him to stay strong and get them in a position has been a good challenge for him. He’s done nice with that. And then running accurate routes where he’s on the same time with the quarterback and make sure he stays disciplined with that, but he’s getting better in all those things.”
I bring this up because when Nelson matches with Hill, be it during a drill or in the slot, I’ve noticed he’s done a very good job keeping with and defending him.
The Chiefs have Nelson as their right cornerback in base defense and slide him in for the nickel. Terrance Mitchell moves to cornerback in nickel.
5. Don’t make light of Cairo Santos’ 60-yarder.
We posted a video the other day of kicker Cairo Santos hitting a 60-yard field goal:
Cairo Santos from the 50-yard line... pic.twitter.com/VKXAF6hggS— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) July 30, 2017
How many times does a game come down to an early missed field goal in the first quarter? Or a late drive in a two-point game in which the kicker needs to hit from 53?
This is a big deal, especially given the growing parity in the NFL as each year passes.