No Kansas City Chiefs position coach saw as little turnover in their players from 2019 than wide receivers coach Greg Lewis; all five wide receivers who have made contributions this season were also making plays last year.
That familiarity allows for some comfort when an important player like wide receiver Sammy Watkins goes down with an injury. But as Lewis acknowledged to reporters on Thursday, it’s never easy — and directly replacing Watkins isn’t the plan.
“It is challenging, to say the least,” said Lewis. “But we don’t try to replace what he does; we try to accentuate what the guys that are coming in can do. Then we continue moving forward. Coach Reid, Coach Bieniemy and those guys do a great job of putting guys in position to do what they do best — and not making them something that they’re not.”
Two of the wideouts who stepped up in the first full game without Watkins were Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle. After some dropped passes earlier this season, Robinson has taken heat from some fans who wonder why other receivers don’t play in front of him — but the coaching staff doesn’t waver from their trust in Robinson.
“[He’s] Interchangeable,” Lewis said of Robinson. “A guy who can do a lot of different things who is very valuable to the offense — especially the receiving corps. The energy he brings, the playmaking ability that he brings is second to none. I appreciate it — and I know the entire staff does. With what he does when he’s called upon, he answers the bell. That’s all you can ask of any of these guys: when your number is called, are you there? I feel like we can count on all the receivers we have — and even more so when Robinson is in there. I’m not worried one iota about anything.”
As for Pringle, he is a player for whom fans are beginning to clamor — especially after he made one of the game’s biggest plays against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Byron wasn't even in the plans on his 37-yard catch on 3rd & 12. Sprints from the backside to get into Mahomes' line of vision #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/6F8rZeZFLI— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) October 20, 2020
Some reporters wondered what it would take for Pringle to see the field more than he does; prior to Week 6, he never had more than 10 offensive snaps in any game. But Lewis reminded them how much talent exists in his position group.
“It’s not really anything [Pringle] has to get over,” he assured them. “It’s a great group of receivers... When your number’s called, you make the most of that opportunity. Pringle has done that each and every time he’s been out there. If his number is not called, he’s affecting the game in other ways. All he needs to do is continue coming to work each day — like he does — just like all the other guys do, and those opportunities will come. There’s only one ball out there getting thrown around. Everybody is working hard — and when the ball finds you, make sure that you’re ready to make that happen.”
The one disappointment from Week 6 was wide receiver Mecole Hardman. He failed to record a catch — while dropping the only target he had. Lewis pointed out that there was something Hardman — along with the rest of the unit — could work on.
“Continuing to release, play fast through contact,” Lewis observed. “I think [Hardman] does it. We just have to continue consistency — and that’s with the entire group. [Defenses] will try to disrupt us more so than other guys, and we have to be physical enough to get through that — and coming back to the ball, making sure to be ball-friendly for the quarterback.”
While Watkins is out, the reserve receivers do have a bigger opportunity — but the same cannot be said about wide receiver Tyreek Hill. With Watkins off the field, he may be at a disadvantage because defenses can devote more attention to him. But Lewis believes that even when he isn’t seeing a target, Hill has embraced how he can affect the game.
“He’s improved a lot in just understanding how he fits into the puzzle of the offense,” he said. “And understanding that those deep passes might not be there, but he’s [still] affecting them deep and allowing other guys to work underneath... Obviously he wants to get the ball down the field, but he knows his role — and he will continue to run fast through there, opening up underneath. Then when his time comes for those deep shots over the top, he’ll be there to answer the bell.”
Watkins missed the first practice of the week on Wednesday. That — along with the snow now being predicted for Sunday’s game in Denver — makes it seem unlikely that Watkins will be back for Week 7. That will mean increased opportunities for reserve receivers like Robinson, Hardman and Pringle to prove their worth.