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Chiefs training camp notebook: Defense keeping up with elite offense

At training camp, everything favors the offense. But through four days, Chiefs defenders are keeping up with one of the best units in the league.

At its core, training camp across the NFL is built for offensive success. And in St. Joseph, Missouri, that idea is all the more exaggerated.

League MVP Patrick Mahomes wears a yellow jersey, meaning he need not worry about being hit or taken to the ground. Mahomes dazzles during times when he knows he could get hurt. How easy must it feel while that is hardly a possibility?

And then there are the players who are on the receiving end of the football: the league’s best tight end in Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, who looks healthier than ever, a blazing fast two-time All-Pro in Tyreek Hill and a rookie in Mecole Hardman who may just give him a run for his money in the speed department.

Yet through four days of Kansas City Chiefs training camp, something a little unexpected is happening. The Chiefs defense is holding its own.

“They have us thinking a little bit as far as moving around trying to disguise a lot of stuff and guys are just out there competing,” Watkins said of the defense on Monday. “[Steve Spagnuolo] has those guys moving off a different energy, out there competing and I think that’s the best part. We can make each other better.”

“All I do is focus on them getting better each day,” Spagnuolo said on Tuesday, another day in which his defense frustrated Mahomes several times throughout the 11-on-11 periods. “Now that’s a cliché, but it’s real. If we don’t do that or buy into that and embrace it, then all we’ll do is go backwards. We’re really hell-bent on just fundamentals, techniques, the little things. They’re probably tired of me saying, ‘the little things,’ all of the time, but that’s OK.

“They need that in their ears when they fall asleep at night so it helps them get better.”

The new faces, such as defensive end Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu and rookie safety Juan Thornhill, who recorded an interception off of Chad Henne on Tuesday, are providing energy for returning players like linebacker Reggie Ragland.

“You hear what type of people they are but until you really get in and understand who they are, but for the most part I really like the guys,” Ragland said. “I like the guys a lot. They’re good people. I like talking to them. They’re funny. Everybody loves playing football and you can see that once they get on the field. Everybody is talking. Even out there yesterday, Frank was talking about his stuff and I appreciate Frank for that. That makes everybody go and we need that, so I’m excited for the future of this team.”

Clark, who spoke to the media on Monday, proclaimed that the defense won the day. He added the Chiefs would come with a whole different attitude in 2019. Because the Chiefs traded a first and second-round pick for Clark when they could have saved those picks and kept Dee Ford, there has reasonably been some chatter on the airwaves and amongst the fan base.

But so far in training camp, Clark looks the part — in between the lines, his intensity bleeds through, and he holds his teammates accountable. Outside the lines, he smiles as he shows off his daughter to the press, thrilled to be in Kansas City and emitting a sense that he already knows something the fans and media don’t.

“He likes to have fun,” Spagnuolo said of Clark. “The guys that are securely confident in their abilities and in what they’re doing, they go out and have fun. I just embraced them just a little bit ago because they battled, the O-Line and D-Line today, and it gets a little contentious.

“But at the end of coach Reid’s huddle, Frank went over and was tapping all of the offensive linemen. That’s a team player right there. That’ll make us better as a football team.”


  • The temperature stayed in the low-to-mid-70s throughout the morning practice that began at 8:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time.
  • With Mitch Schwartz (back) out, Cam Erving filled in as the first-team right tackle. It is looking more and more like regardless of which side, Erving will be the first tackle off the bench in the case the Chiefs need to turn to their depth.
  • Bashaud Breeland (thumb) worked with the first and second teams in his return to practice. It was interesting that by the end of of the workout, the starting outside cornerbacks were D’Montre Wade and Charvarius Ward. Spagnuolo confirmed after practice that he intends for Kendall Fuller to “master that nickel spot,” a natural fit for him. Spagnuolo added the Chiefs are looking for a backup in that position as well. Fuller will only play on the outside in emergency situations moving forward, per Spagnuolo. Fuller is continuing to have a tough camp against the Chiefs’ highly-talented offensive personnel.
  • Spagnuolo on Wade: “I think D’Montre’s done a heck of a job. He’s one guy that I think is really buying in and embracing the techniques that Sam Madison and Dave Merritt are teaching.” Wade was not even a consideration for my initial 53-man roster, but even in these early days, he is feels like a virtual lock based upon what I am seeing and what those making the decisions are saying.
  • Spagnuolo said that Chris Jones is seeking extra help in order to learn to defense faster (Jones missed OTAs and mandatory minicamp with hopes of a new contract offer from Kansas City): “Chris is a little bit behind—he’d tell you the same thing. I saw him the other night—we have a 9:35 staff meeting with coach (Andy) Reid, and after that meeting, he grabbed coach (Brendan) Daly to get extra, so that tells me he’s a prideful guy and he wants to learn. I’m happy with that. It will take him a little while to get up to speed, but we’ll get him there.”
  • Thornhill drew a lot of big-time media attention (see below) on Tuesday for his efforts, but Daniel Sorensen continues to take all the first-team snaps. I anticipate Thornhill will begin garnering some top snaps soon, and I wouldn’t be completely surprised to see him on the field with Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen at the same time. Sorensen is having a strong camp in his own right.
  • Every defense needs a few dogs, and the Chiefs certainly have at least two. Defensive lineman Frank Clark appears a level above everybody else, and I liked what I have seen from strong-side linebacker Damien Wilson. Wilson made his presence known in the “thud” periods Tuesday and he attempted to strip Carlos Hyde and Darwin Thompson on every snap, even many times after the whistle. Wilson is the type of player you’re happy to be playing with—not against.
  • I’m mimicking some others here but Patrick Mahomes continues to look legitimately better than he did at the end of last season. It does not matter if he has defensive backs blitzing right up in his grill—he finds the way to get the pass off in places only his receivers can make the catch.
  • Before Tyreek Hill left with a quad contusion, he made one of the best catches of training camp, a one-handed grab on a ball that Mahomes threw high.
  • It has been one thing to see rookie running back Darwin Thompson mix with Mahomes and the first team; it was another that he caught my eye in pass-protection drills. Thompson is quick, shifty and will be a weapon in Reid’s offense, but that will happen sooner rather than later if Thompson can prove he can block out of the gate. I find this to be a possibility.
  • Kansas State product Byron Pringle had a nice day, catching seemingly everything thrown his way by Chad Henne in a situational team period. Rookie second-rounder Mecole Hardman dropped a few passes on the day and he was unable to catch up to a beautifully thrown long ball from Mahomes in 9-on-7. Hardman will try to get back to more of what we saw on Monday when practice resumes Wednesday.
  • Jody Fortson, who is transitioning from tight end to wide receiver, made two noticeably tough catches, catching my attention for the first time all camp.

Injury report

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill gave the Chiefs and those in attendance a scare, but the injury wound up being a “quad contusion.” Five Chiefs were held out of practice with one player making his return. Read our full injury report here.

Tweets of note

Quote of the day

Reggie Ragland, when I asked if he made it an intention to come back to the Chiefs slimmer than he was last year: “There is always the intention to come back slimmer. I was fat last year—is that what you’re saying? (laughter) Wow. That’s crazy. That’s how you feel that way.”

What’s next?

The Chiefs will practice again on Wednesday, beginning at 9:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time, followed by the first day off since training camp began on Thursday.

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