Two months ago, Sammy Watkins described “how he’s getting back to that kid again.” The 26-year-old Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver felt blessed to still be on the field, especially given his injury-rich history dating back to his college days.
Last season, Watkins hurt his foot in early November, later attempting to return for Monday Night Football against the Los Angeles Rams. He lasted five plays, and the Chiefs didn’t see him again until the playoffs.
2019 will be different, Watkins already believes, and it is because of a change he made in the offseason. Rather than creating his own schedule and overworking himself like he has done in the past, he stayed in contact with the Chiefs’ trainers and strength team.
“I think I had one of the best offseasons with the training staff, with the weight room guys,” he said. “I just kind of trust them and gave my all and all the workouts. I’m thankful I did that because now I can literally just run around and have fun and not think about any body issues or any injuries.”
And in this offense, how couldn’t he? The Chiefs will return with their third-year, 23-year-old quarterback who also happens to be the league MVP, they have added a rookie with Tyler Lockett-like speed in wide receiver Mecole Hardman, and Tyreek Hill, inarguably the game’s fastest player, won’t miss a single game despite the thought that he might earlier this offseason.
“We are the home-run team,” Watkins said. “We can go deep, we got all these track runners, all these thoroughbreds running, and if we can match the short-yardage stuff and win on our quick routes, I think we can possibly be unstoppable.”
Watkins caught some buzz from the NFL Network back in May when Good Morning Football host Peter Schrager announced that he looked “incredible.” And through the first few days of training camp, he has.
“Sammy looks like he’s doing a very good job of transitioning in and out of breaks,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “He has a big body (Watkins is 6 feet 1), and sometimes that big body has a hard time stopping. One thing I’ve noticed that I’ve seen he’s worked on a bunch this entire offseason is just his ability to transition in and out of breaks faster, which is huge. You figure a man of that size after the catch can be dangerous.”
Watkins credits his improved transitions to Hill, who introduced him to wide receiver guru Keith Williams. According to various Instagram posts, Williams trained Watkins for a week back in late June.
“We got great coaches [in Kansas City], but [Williams] can kind of talk to you and break everything down and walk through stuff. Out here, it’s like more competing and grinding but with him, it’s more teaching and talking. It kind of just help me out within those five days.”
Williams trained Hill prior to his career season in 2018 when he posted 1,479 receiving yards, a mark good for fourth in the league among receivers. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid believes that Watkins’ second year in the system will help his case, too.
“I think Sammy knows what to expect,” Reid said. “I think that’s a big thing at that position because you put so many miles in out here. So if you’re not used to it, all of a sudden it jumps on you, ‘Man, where did this come from?’ Coming in, he’s in great shape. He just wants to do everything. I think his body feels better that way.”
This offseason, Chris Conley, a principal voice in the Chiefs wide receiver room, signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, leaving a significant void to fill. Watkins decided he would step up as a leader, he explained during OTAs.
“It’s been uncomfortable, but I think good,” Watkins said. “I think it just helps me be myself and express myself more. Mecole is a guy that I’m trying to help out and the other guys. I think it helped me be that leader because I can’t be talking to him and then go mess up, so I think it’s a good thing to be a leader.”
NFL analysts often joke that training camp can be labeled as “best-shape-of-your-life” season, as it’s a phrase frequently muttered in most NFL cities. But with Watkins in 2019, it really does feel different.
As much as he feels physically ready to go, it sounds like his mentality and attitude is better than it has ever been.
- The temperature stayed in the low-to-mid-70s throughout the morning practice that began at 8:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time.
- With Monday marking the first padded practice of training camp, it was a bit more competitive—the players being able to bang into each other raised the intensity level. Andy Reid on putting on the pads: “It’s all new right there, right? Those offensive guys have been together for a while. It’s good to get the defense out there challenging like they were. It was beautiful. That’s where you get better.”
- With Bashaud Breeland out to injury, the Chiefs’ starting outside cornerbacks were Charvarius Ward and D’Montre Wade. It is becoming more and more apparent that Kendall Fuller will exclusively play as a slot cornerback, at least to start the season. Injuries to Breeland and Keith Reaser did not force the Chiefs to practice him outside. Fuller did not have a great day in coverage on Monday, especially against Tyreek Hill (but keep in mind this: who would?).
- Hill and Mahomes connected on a deep post over Fuller in 11-on-11s for a touchdown. Despite Hill missing OTAs, their chemistry has not suffered in the least. They have picked up right where they left off.
- Running back Carlos Hyde took first-team reps in place of the injured Damien Williams, and rookie Darwin Thompson was in the mix. I like Thompson way more than I do Hyde right now, and I’m eager to see what Reid can draw up for the rookie.
- Offensive lineman Cam Erving is taking most of his reps as the second-team left tackle, but will mix in on the first and second teams at both tackle positions. Erving came in at right tackle when Mitch Schwartz’s back “locked up on him.” Kahlil McKenzie actually looks like an offensive lineman this year and could be a viable backup at guard. He looked strong during O-line vs. D-line drills.
- Defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon and linebacker Darron Lee earned some snaps with the top-team defense. Safety Daniel Sorensen continues to holds onto that starting safety spot, at least for the time being. Rookie Juan Thornhill is playing with the second team.
- The defense had two interceptions on the day. Emmanuel Ogbah jumped a Chad Henne pass to take the ball to the house for a pick-six, and D’Montre Wade intercepted Patrick Mahomes in 11-on-11. Mahomes’ first interception came on day three of full-team workouts, and it was Wade’s second interception of training camp.
- If it was not before, cornerback is certainly a team deficiency with the expected loss of Reaser. Look for Chiefs general manager Brett Veach to get aggressive and make a late-preseason move (as we saw when he traded for Ward and safety Jordan Lucas last season).
- Chiefs rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman had his best day of camp so far. I thought that Hardman may take a year of seasoning to truly contribute on offense, but he looks to be hitting his stride. I’ll be eager to see if he could carry what he’s done into the preseason games. Watkins on Hardman: “Every day he’s getting better. Every day he’s competing. Every day he’s focusing on the little things, and I think [Monday], he had one of the best practices by me just watching him and the coaches. [I’m] kind of hard on him but I think that it helped.”
- Safety Armani Watts returned, five players were held out and four players left practice early, including cornerback Keith Reaser, who may have suffered a season-ending torn Achilles. Click here for Monday’s full report.
Tweets of note
Noticeable here during the team period. They are only doing thud, not full tackle. Mutliple defenders coming over to gang tackle. They aren’t stopping. D is getting their pursuit angles and breaking down in proper tackling form. The small things that can pay off in January.— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) July 29, 2019
Mahomes just unleashed his Sidearm Jeter Throw for a completion to Ty Hill— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) July 29, 2019
Whew. Nice ball from Chad Henne to Mecole Hardman for a long TD in 11 on 11. Hardman can really run— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) July 29, 2019
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Mecole Hardman today. He’s creating consistent separation. Had one drop but otherwise has been relatively sure-handed. Been a good day for him. #Chiefs— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) July 29, 2019
One-on-one rep here between two exciting #Chiefs rookies, WR @MecoleHardman4 and CB @MFII__— PFF KC Chiefs (@PFF_Chiefs) July 29, 2019
Hardman had a career Passer Rating when Targeted of 135.9 on 93 targets at Georgia, while Fields had a career Passer Rating Against of 52.4 on 75 targets at Clemson!#ChiefsKingdom https://t.co/iGS3OgBrux
Something that won’t show up in a box score. Darwin Thompson with a blocker for Hardman on his play. Hardman ran to the pylon, Thompson ran with him to finish out the play. Bieniemy built a mentality 6 years ago and it still carries over with all RBs.— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) July 29, 2019
Darron Lee gave David Wells a nice little pop in the thud period.— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) July 29, 2019
D’Montre Wade continues to be the surprise of training camp. He intercepts Mahomes on a high pass to Kelce.— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) July 29, 2019
Looked like kelce had a hand on the ball, but Wade caught it after it went over 87’s finger tips.
Khalil McKenzie’s work with Shields is showing. Better anchor and hand placement than last year. #Chiefs— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) July 29, 2019
Frank Clark’s spin move is ridiculous— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) July 29, 2019
Quote of the day
Andy Reid describing Travis Kelce's first hit since he's been back pic.twitter.com/4iAi6VWDvF— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) July 29, 2019
Travis Kelce caught a ball and walked off gingerly, favoring right ankle (not the one he had surgery on). He’s already back out there, so it seems like he’s OK. Everybody breathes easy.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) July 29, 2019
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid on tight end Travis Kelce being shaken up after his first hit since returning from ankle surgery: “You’re going to see that periodically. He’s all right. He’ll work through it. He got hit on it. That first time you get hit on it, you go OH-HO! But he bounced up and came back and everything was OK.”
The Chiefs will practice again on Tuesday beginning at 8:15 a.m. Their first training camp day off is scheduled for this Thursday.