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Chiefs training camp notebook: Mecole Hardman tracking for key offensive role by Week 1

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The Chiefs rookie is already proving to be more than a speed receiver.

On the Monday after the NFL Draft in late April, Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach spoke highly of Mecole Hardman, the 21-year-old wide receiver he traded up to select with the 56th overall pick in the second round.

Veach said that while the decision on playing time would ultimately be decided by Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and the coaching staff, he expected the rookie to “play a bunch Week 1.”

“He’s extremely talented and he’s a smart kid, too,” he explained at the time. “When we do all this pre-draft stuff and getting this information, this kid is smart, he’s intelligent, he’ll pick it up. Again, another guy that played at the top level, played in the SEC for four years. I would expect you’d see a bunch of him and I think he’ll be ready to go Week 1 for sure. That’s my opinion. Again, I don’t tell coach who to play and who not to play, but if you’re asking me, I would expect to see him a lot early on.”

Admittedly, not all of us bought it—on Hardman’s first weekend with only the rookies, he seemed somewhat overwhelmed. But through rookie minicamp, OTAs, mandatory minicamp and 12 training camp workouts, his progression has been obvious.

Fast forward a little more than three months, and he already seems like he could wind up being one of Patrick Mahomes’ primary targets by Week 1. That is saying a lot with Mahomes having to feed the mouths of All-Pros Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce — as well as Sammy Watkins.

“He’s a smart kid,” Reid said on Monday. “I think it was just him getting used to the speed of the game. And then every route here, there’s no route that’s off. Not with a quarterback like we have.

Hardman learned very quickly that when you are playing with Mahomes, there are no plays off.

“You have to run hard on everything,” Reid added. “It might look like a clearing route, but you can’t take it that way. That’s not how it works.”

“I mean you can see it with any rookie,” Mahomes said earlier this week. “Me in my first year or any of these younger guys there is a lot put on your plate. Coach Reid doesn’t kind of baby you into it, he gives you everything and throws everything at you. So as he picks up the offense, where he needs to go each route and he’s able to recognize coverage based off stuff we’re doing pre-snap or post-snap.

“I think that’s stuff he is picking up with every rep he’s getting. He’s not making the same mistake twice so those are good because when you get guys like that who can play at a high speed and learn from their mistakes, those guys end up being good players.”

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs-Minicamp Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

As the calendar pages have turned during the first two weeks of training camp, the Mahomes-to-Hardman connection has gone from occasional to increasingly frequent.

“I would say we’re on good timing right now,” Hardman said. “Our chemistry is growing, and I think I’m starting to figure out where he wants me to be at on the field. I think he’s starting to figure out who I am as a player, my speed, my routes. I think it’s growing, and we still have some improving to do before the first game, but right now, I think we’re solid.”

Hardman’s ability to grow in the offense so quickly has been impressive to watch, considering Reid’s West Coast playbook has been notoriously known across the league as one of the more difficult to grasp.

Hardman’s offensive coordinator at Georgia was Jim Chaney, an originator of the spread offense. Hardman managed two second-team All-SEC nods in 2017 and 2018, despite the Bulldogs utilizing many different receivers. And while some of the concepts Chaney used relate to some Chiefs principles, Reid’s playbook is a whole new ballgame.

“It’s different,” Hardman said. “It’s a more workload learning outside-inside. Sometimes, in the backfield, you moving around, so you just don’t know where you’re going to be at, and you don’t know what personnel is going to be called, so got to be ready for anything. You could be an outside receiver two plays, three plays in a row. Personnel changes, and you in the slot or they in the backfield, so you never know. That’s the difference from college.

“In college, I knew I was going to be in the slot the whole time. It’s just like a different formation—not personnel-wise—but different formation I go to the outside. In this offense, you could be motioning to the left, to the right, from the backfield to the outside. You just don’t know. That’s why you got to keep everything fresh in your head, and that’s why it’s kind of hard for guys because there is so much going on.

Reid acknowledged that he and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy are asking the rookie to do more than what can be found on his tape from Georgia.

“The things we’re asking him to do, some of those things he didn’t have to do,” said Reid. “He was kind of their stretch guy down the field, the around guy, jet sweep guy for them. We’re asking him to do all of the short and intermediate stuff too, things over the middle. That’s something that’s new for him.”

“Right now it’s more volume,” Hardman said. “I think at the beginning it was just one position, but as you start progressing through OTAs, minicamp and training camp, I think you got to start learning more than one person if you want to be on the field. Now it’s all three positions I’m getting comfortable with and I’m just going to keep learning as the days go on.”

A bonus for Hardman has been the presence of Hill, who has a similar height and build and came into the league primarily as a speed-first receiver. Mahomes was asked if having Hill as a mentor helps Hardman.

“Definitely,” he said, “seeing a guy who has a similar skill set with speed and that compact body and able to go out there and make tough catches. I mean when you see a guy that’s at the top level of that and see how you have to work to get there, it’s definitely something that has impacted him in a positive way.”

In addition his hopes to contribute offense, Hardman hopes to earn the Chiefs’ kick-returner role that may be open if (or when) the Chiefs move on from now-running back Tremon Smith returning kicks.

“Hopefully, I could get back there, get a couple returns,” he said. “[Dave Toub] on me hard right now catching balls before practice, trying to get as many reps as I can. The more you catch balls at practice, the better you get and the more confidence he has in you going into the games.”

Hardman added it “means a lot” to hear that he already has earned praise from Reid and the coaching staff.

“He’s gaining trust in me, and that means I’m doing what I’m supposed to do out here on the field,” Hardman said. “I’m in my playbook every night, studying every position, trying to get better at stating goals and just go out here, perform and just try to be consistent as training camp goes.”

Observations

  • The Chiefs held what they call a 10-10-10 practice on Monday leading into a day off on Tuesday. Andy Reid on 10-10-10 practice: “We were able to service ourselves, get some situational work done in this period — players got 60 plays in on offense, 60 on defense, and special teams got good work in [Monday], too.”
  • There is never a lot to take away from the lighter 10-10-10 days, but the highlight had to go to linebacker Reggie Ragland, who recorded an interception for what would have likely been a pick-six. He has continued to look better than last year in coverage all camp.
  • It was interesting and refreshing to see Tanoh Kpassagnon and Breeland Speaks working as defensive ends on the top team with both Alex Okafor and Frank Clark sidelined. Reid on Kpssagnon: “Tanoh’s all over the place—he’s played outside backer, he’s played defensive end, rush end, he’s played inside at the tackle position—Tanoh’s having a good camp, playing well.” Reid on Speaks: “Breeland’s in that rotation with the first group there—they kind of throw fastballs at you, and you could play. The great thing about Breeland is that he can play inside or outside. He’s working different rush moves, which young guys have to work on. They come in kind of with one or two that they really like. Well, in the NFL, you have a couple more pitches that you throw. He’s been working on those.”
  • With Damien Williams sidelined, Carlos Hyde and Darrel Williams continue to be the running backs of choice.
  • With Tyreek Hill not able to go on Monday, Patrick Mahomes had nice connections to Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Marcus Kemp.

Injury report

The Chiefs injury report has grown to nine players. Find Monday’s full breakdown here.

Tweets of note

What’s next?

The Chiefs will have a day off on Tuesday and resume practice Wednesday at 8:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time. Afterward, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will speak to the media, and quarterbacks, running backs and specialists will sign autographs.