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Chiefs training camp notebook: Just like that, Darwin Thompson has become a player to watch

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The Chiefs running back earned a chunk of time with the top team on Tuesday.

A day after Damien Williams addressed the situation, the Kansas City Chiefs’ on-again, off-again relationship with a running back-by-committee continued at training camp in St. Joseph when running backs coach Deland McCullough took the podium.

“I look at it as we have a committee of guys who can play,” McCullough said on Tuesday. “But when we go out there, Damien will be the first guy that goes out there. Damien is going to go out there, he’s the lead guy, so he’s going to go out there and play. He will be supplemented by the other guys of course, but Damien is the starter.”

Based upon looks at camp, that appears to be the plan. When Williams missed almost two weeks to begin training camp, Carlos Hyde took the majority of reps with the first team. Now that Williams is back with the team and practicing, he has returned to the first position.

What was noteworthy on Tuesday was who came in behind him.

Fresh off his 51-yard, one-touchdown performance in the preseason win against the Cincinnati Bengals, rookie running back Darwin Thompson saw some snaps with Patrick Mahomes and the first team in goal-line drills. Hyde worked with the second team.

McCullough noted Thompson’s focus and intensity when asked about what has stood out in the former sixth-rounder’s game.

“Darwin, who you would think is a smaller, jitterbug type of guy but he’s strong and packs a punch,” McCullough said.

Thompson stands at 5 feet 8 and 195 pounds. If the football field is his place of business, the gym is his sanctuary. On draft weekend, several members of the Chiefs organization described him in the same way: “rocked up.” On offense, he is quick, explosive, can catch the football and showcases a capacity to make defenders miss in the open field. But those qualities alone won’t get head coach Andy Reid’s wheels turning.

In order to play in the NFL, many young running backs need to develop an ability to pass-block. An argument could be made that there is no place in the league where that attribute is more important than in Kansas City.

Last Thursday, Thompson told 610 Sports Radio’s Brandon Kiley that part of his game is a work-in-progress.

“Pass blocking has not always been my plus,” Thompson said. “So that’s something I definitely focus on more and more every day. Coming out of college, that just wasn’t my thing. I never gave up a quarterback sack, but I definitely didn’t like to pass block. But that’s something here that we do—we do one-on-one pass blocking. I mean there’s probably a video out there, I got blew up one day. I got blew up bad.”

Unfortunately for Thompson, he was right. In 2019, there is always a video.

“I’ll never let that happen again,” Thompson said. “I lift weights for a reason, so I just run up there and throw everything I got. Every 195 (pound) I got.”

That was evident against the Bengals in another video.

And all of a sudden, Thompson has begun to shift the conversation.

“His pass protection is strong, the guy is strong,” McCullough added. “He has a great base. He has some stature issues but once he gets up inside, that’s where his strength is are once he gets his hands on you, he will squat down on you and anchor down to stop a guy from getting to the quarterback... just like a lot of these guys coming out of college, coming here and understanding and having a good anchor, punching and resetting.

“The guy has a phenomenal punch, he has a phenomenal base and most importantly, he has a great want-to.”

Could Thompson’s want-to drive him to RB2 over Hyde and second-year running back Darrel Williams? Over the last two weeks, answering yes to that question has gone from unlikely to plausible.

Just like that, Thompson has become a player to watch.

Observations

  • The temperature in St. Joseph Tuesday started in the mid-70s and broke 80 degrees by the end of practice. It was humid, and that humidity led to visible exhaustion by practice’s end. Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce all had to report to the injury tent for shade in between first-team reps toward the end of the workout.
  • Defensive lineman Breeland Speaks had his best day yet. With Frank Clark practicing intermittently and Alex Okafor currently only doing partial work, Speaks is getting a lot of time with the top-team line. Speaks forced a fumble from Sammy Watkins and picked off Patrick Mahomes before fumbling it himself during Tuesday’s practice.
  • Cornerback Mo Claiborne saw some initial team work with the second and third teams. As a reminder, Andy Reid said earlier this week that it’s unlikely we’ll see Claiborne against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Claiborne nearly intercepted a pass from Chad Henne that was tipped in his direction.
  • I like what linebacker Damien Wilson brings to the defense. He plays with an aggressiveness that begs for a game situation. Sent on a blitz on Tuesday, Wilson would have clocked the quarterback had it not been training camp. I asked linebackers coach Matt House about what he likes when it comes to Wilson: “He’s really productive. He’s got a great football IQ and feel for the game.”
  • Linebacker Reggie Ragland looks like he is in better shape this year. House added that Ragland’s had a good camp, and his coverage has been “solid but nothing exceptional.”
  • Wide receiver Tyreek Hill made a fantastic over-the-shoulder catch in seven-on-seven and continues to look better and better each day. I asked wide receivers coach Greg Lewis about what he’s noticed between Hill now and Hill this time last year: “He’s taken a leadership role in this room as far as helping guys and leading by example, which has been a big positive here at camp, so I’m enjoying that part of him. He’s detailing his work up as well, the small details of running routes, getting in and out of breaks, so he can run fast and get behind people. The nuances of running routes, he’s really expanded his game on that part of it. As far as some of the young guys, the same things.”
  • As Reid suggested they would earlier this week, Daniel Sorensen and Juan Thornhill are splitting reps at the top-team free safety position. But I think the Chiefs’ best option in the secondary is to keep all three of their top safeties on the field at the same time.

Injury report

Frank Clark has been dealing with a sore wrist lately, but he missed practice on Tuesday due to an illness. The Chiefs were without four other players. Check out our full injury report here.

Tweets of note

Quote of the day

Chiefs quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka on watching Patrick Mahomes make outstanding plays day after day: “We talk about it all the time as a staff that those things are just starting to become everyday things. We try not to take them for granted because we know those are special things that he does, and he does them so easily, which is why he’s a great player.”

What’s next?

The Chiefs resume practice in St. Joseph on Wednesday at 8:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time. Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is scheduled to address the media, and the offensive and defensive linemen will sign autographs after practice.