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Chiefs training camp: The Tyreek Hill hype train is not slowing down

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs-Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know where new Chiefs GM Brett Veach would fall in a power ranking of top executives. I do know, he would be a top contender for best calves in a front office.

The Chiefs managed to get a lot of out of an unusually cold and wet August morning practice on Saturday. There were several things on both sides of the ball to be excited about. This is the best compilation of players the Chiefs have had in training camp that I’ve ever seen. Here are my thoughts on what I saw.

Talking About Quarterbacks

Let’s lead with the most important position in sports. I’ll take the “Alex Smith is throwing the ball downfield more” thing a little further. I think Smith is trying to put the ball in places he hasn’t in the past. Smith looked more aggressive throwing in windows we haven’t seen him try in the past. He looks like he’s trying to retrain his mentality a little. Maybe watching the missed opportunities in the Pittsburgh game last year has pushed him to change some things. Old habits die hard however, and there were a few plays he reverted back to more conservative tendencies. Something to watch for in the future.

Tyler Bray had a less than stellar day. He missed on some easy completions during team sessions. His size and slower feet make it difficult for him to execute some of the plays that Smith and Patrick Mahomes are able to. If Bray had to play, there would be some adjustments to what they could and would do.

Speaking of Mahomes, the Chiefs have a well organized plan to develop him. Reps are hard to come by and will only get harder in the regular season. The Chiefs are wasting no chances. During a pass rush drill for linebackers vs. tight ends and running backs, Mahomes stood in to get reps maneuvering around the competing players. It was meant for him to simulate pocket movement. He led the drill and got two sets of reps to Joel Stave’s one. The way they scheduled the drills and placement for quarterbacks throughout the practice seemed to be built around Mahomes getting as many chances at as many stations as he could. Everyone was able to get the necessary reps, but it seemed like they were trying to squeeze as many as they could in for Mahomes.

Mahomes is taking his own development seriously. One of the best things I saw from him during the day had nothing to do with his play. The quarterbacks were working on timing on running plays with the running backs. Mahomes took reps on his own to the side before it was his turn. He also reportedly stayed after practice to work more as he’s been doing. He has said all the right things throughout the draft process and preseason. He appears to be living it out too.

On the field, Mahomes showed a ton of promise and progress. His footwork is far from a finished product, but overall I came away impressed by the improvements he has made. The adjustments he’s having to make were no more obvious than when he had to execute a toss play in a team period. It’s likely he has never had to do this before the last few months and it was apparent. He didn’t keep the ball secure, away from his body and he didn’t step towards the running back enough to gain momentum. His toss came in slow and inaccurate. The entire thing looked awkward.

Other than that there were a lot of positive signs. Although not particularly smooth, he was able to move well against pressure during 11-on-11 drills. I think he’s coming along well in regard to adjusting his footwork from the pocket. He made good decisions on where to move to a lot of the time. He’s still fighting his feet at times trying to figure out the landmarks he needs to arrive at. During blitz period, Mahomes corrected a formation issue, another positive sign.

There were several impressive throws Mahomes made throughout the day. During blitz period, Mahomes beat a free rushing Ukeme Eligwe on a slant to Gehrig Dieter (more on him later). It looked like a hot adjustment made by Dieter, and Mahomes knew where to put it. He hooked up with Marcus Kemp on an impressive back shoulder throw. We haven’t seen much of that ever in Kansas City.

Mahomes showed excellent touch on several different throws to different parts of the field. He delivered some good up and down balls in the middle of the field to Ross Travis and Dieter. Same with the 99 yards pass to C.J. Spiller which spent about 25 yards in the air. Mahomes footwork looked good in a full field progression read from left to right ending in a completion to Orson Charles.

My favorite play from Mahomes came on an incompletion in the red zone. Mahomes took a snap that rolled to him. He didn’t let it phase him. He picked the ball up in time to execute the play called, finding Jehu Chesson on a slant. Chesson dropped it, but the composure Mahomes showed was encouraging.

Good Problems

The Chiefs have more than 53 NFL quality football players on their 90 man roster. They have some difficult decisions looming. A few position groups are going to be more hotly contested than I originally anticipated. There is a case to be made for all four tight ends not named Travis Kelce to earn a roster spot. Gavin Escobar is likely to make the roster, and I came away impressed by his hands and route running ability. He not only should make the team, but could provide more value in the passing game than people think. Orson Charles has some diversity to his game. He could play an H-Back type role if needed. I liked what I saw from him in the passing game. Ross Travis and Demetrius Harris both looked improved. Travis climbed the ladder to reel in a pass and showed soft hands at times. Harris is the most experienced in the Reid system of all the candidates. It’s difficult to let go of athletic projects like him.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Chiefs keep four tight ends. That would require roster crunches elsewhere, like possibly running back. There’s four guys at running back that deserve a roster spot. Spiller flashed his speed and hands as a pass catcher today, connecting with Patrick Mahomes on a 99 yard TD in a situational down period. Spiller is the best pass catching option at running back, and could add value in the passing game.

There’s big decisions to be made at wide receiver as well. Seantavius Jones deserves to be under serious consideration. I was skeptical, but you can’t coach his size and he showed good athleticism for a guy that big. He made an impressive catch in one-on-one drills. He got a few plays with the ones on Saturday. Jones was actually used as an H-Back type and cut the backside off of a zone run play. I wonder if the Chiefs are trying to give him a look in different roles to see if he can add value.

Personnel Diversity

Who the Chiefs decide to keep for the regular season will likely depend on the scheme versatility they can provide. The pieces that Andy Reid has to play with season are as dynamic as he’s had in Kansas City.

I saw a bunch formation with Escobar, Harris and Jones. Earlier in the practice the Chiefs utilized a twitchier bunch formation with Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson and Demarcus Robinson. I’m excited to see how Reid mixes and matches throughout the year with the talent he has.

Hill is the best chess piece that Reid has to play with. While running on air at the beginning of practice, the Chiefs practiced a really creative screen play with Hill. I shouldn’t elaborate too much, but the concept gives Hill the ball on the move. Reid has clearly spent the off season finding more ways to use Hill, and I think we’re going to be in for some surprises.

Also, the Hill hype train has no reason to slow down. Everything we’ve heard is true. He’s well on his way to becoming a superstar. His route running and ball skills impressive, and his burst, agility and long speed is the same it was last year.

I wonder if De’Anthony Thomas isn’t Hill insurance. Thomas can’t do what Hill can as a downfield receiver, but he can execute the screen game and running plays (although probably not as effectively) to keep the scheme diversity should something happen to him. He still is an effective players.

The defensive side should have a little more scheme diversity as well. Second round pick Tanoh Kpassagnon spent time as a stand up end on a few plays. He also kicked inside in a few different alignments. He could be an interesting sub-package rusher in his first season. As far as his development, he played with inconsistent leverage all day. He’s still learning how to use his length to his advantage, but his explosiveness showed up at times. He knocked an offensive lineman over in one-on-one drills. He spent time over to the side during some down time working on his hands with a coach.

Practice Squad Candidates

Here are some guys that intrigued me.

Gehrig Dieter
Dieter showed some chemistry with Patrick Mahomes, hooking up on at least three different occasions in practice. He spent most of his time as an inside receiver, and showed soft hands and good play recognition. Also a special teams contributor at Alabama, Dieter could make an impact some day in Kansas City.

Marcus Kemp
The former Hawaii receiver showed a more narrow skill set compared to others, but what he does do shows promise. Kemp is a straight line, downfield threat who showed solid hands and an ability to use his 6’ 4” 210 lb frame well. He may be worth keeping around to get a better look at when Mahomes is under center.

Josh James
Coming from NAIA Carroll College in Montana, James surprised me during one-on-one drills. Lining up at guard, he anchored well versus a bull rush, stone walling an interior rusher.

Ashton Lampkin
Playing in the nickel, Lampkin got some run with two’s and had a nice pass break up in 7-on-7. The rookie undrafted free agent was a little taller and lankier than I thought he was.

Miscellaneous

Demarcus Robinson showed a lot of promise. I’m excited to see him in game settings. He’s a smooth route runner, and I saw him make a tough contested catch.

I’m rooting for De’Vante Bausby. I see why the Chiefs wanted to get another look at him. His length showed up on an interception in the end zone.

I could hear running back coach Eric Bienemy as clear as day from 60 yards away when he had some issues with rookie running back Kareem Hunt. What he said, I will not repeat.