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Clyde Edwards-Helaire appears primed for NFL spotlight

The Chiefs’ first-round pick is expected to debut as the team’s starter Thursday night against the Houston Texans.

NFL Combine - Day 3

Kansas City Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire will take the field for the first time as a professional on Thursday night in the NFL season opener against the Houston Texans. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the rookie has not had the luxury of the run-throughs that a preseason would have provided.

His first snap will count — and it is a good sign for the Chiefs that the coaching staff remains confident in the 21-year-old.

“We put him through a lot of different tests this training camp,” explained Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on Monday. “He’s had an opportunity to get out there, work with the ones. Obviously, our training camps are tough, we want to make it tough just because of the way we practice. We practice with a high volume of reps, we practice at game speed, and on top of that, it’s OK if he makes a mistake. The thing that we want to do is see how he handles those mistakes. Everything that we do in practice obviously cannot simulate a game as far as game speed and all the collisions that will be made. But one thing that we do know, the kid has mentally and physically prepared himself for this point. But he does understand that when those lights turn on, it’s time to go, and he’ll be ready to go.”

“The speed of the NFL is something to be unmatched,” acknowledged Edwards-Helaire on Tuesday. “It’s the National Football League. It’s the highest you could possibly go as far as playing professional football. The speed is going to be as fast as each game will be. Every game, I feel like will be different, but the speed will ultimately be unmatched.”

Edwards-Helaire may not have been afforded preseason games, but what he does have on his side is coming from the grandest stage in college football. Edwards-Helaire not only played in the Southeastern Conference (SEC); he also played for LSU — last year’s undefeated national champions.

Edwards-Helaire accumulated more than 1,800 scrimmage yards and 17 touchdowns for LSU.

“He helped his team to win a national championship,” added Bieniemy. “He had to grind and claw to get to that spotlight, to that position, to help him to be the number one back on that particular team. So, he understands what competition is. He understands what it takes to play underneath the big lights. Now, he’s just got to make sure that he’s ready to transfer it over once we kick off on Thursday. The biggest thing — like I’ve told him, I know the hardest thing will probably be that first drive because his emotions are going to be high, he’s going to be hyperventilating and he’s just going to be so excited about being out there. But once he gets tackled the first time, you know what, it’s all football. He’s lining up between the hashes, he’s doing what he does best, and that’s why we drafted him.”

Someone who had been familiar with Edwards-Helaire — even before the Chiefs selected him in the draft — is safety Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu played two seasons (2010-11) at LSU before entering the NFL Draft. He still follows the team as a fan.

“I’m a die-hard LSU guy, so I saw all his tricks before he got here,” laughed Mathieu. “I’m more impressed by the teammate he’s becoming. I can see he him interacting with guys younger than him, older than him. You can see him taking coaching, taking criticism. Not everybody can be coached by [Eric Bieniemy], so to see a guy still smiling after the tough days — I think that’s a joy to see.”

Over the past month, Mathieu has had the opportunity to see what Edwards-Helaire can do firsthand.

SEC Championship Game - Georgia v LSU

“I think he’s going to be a great fit for our offense,” said Mathieu. “I think he’s going to be somebody coach (Andy) Reid can really count on and can really stay up late at night trying to get him a mismatch, so I’m looking forward to it. He’s a guy that can obviously run the football really well. His vision is great, especially for a rookie. He can see all the holes, even back-side, and then in the passing game, I think he’s a guy that could really create matchup problems for the opposing defense. I’m just looking forward to seeing other teams try to cover our team when they get five out. I think Clyde’s going to be a big part of that.”

Edwards-Helaire will be thinking of the New Orleans roots he also shares with Mathieu on Thursday night.

“It’s literally going to mean the world,” he described. “Everyone who has had their hand in the Clyde pot – which has not been a lot growing up – just being from Baton Rouge and understanding the circumstance of coming out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For me, it’s going to be important, but (also) for the people that are around me that have supported me the most and ultimately, got me through the hardships of growing up where I grew up at. Ultimately, I’m doing it for them. Personally, you can say you’re doing it for yourself but ultimately, it’s the connections and everything that you make coming up in this profession. Ultimately, I just want to make those people happy.”


A familiar feeling

Edwards-Helaire’s debut as the starter is reminiscent of the Chiefs’ situation in 2017. Running back Kareem Hunt — who shares similar traits with Edwards-Helaire — fumbled his first career carry against the New England Patriots on their banner night. He then went on to accumulate 246 yards and three touchdowns.

Bienemy noted on Monday that turnover numbers are higher in Week 1 than the rest of the season, so that has been a point of emphasis — as it always is.

“(Running backs) coach Deland (McCullough) has addressed this with him — ‘Hey. Two hands on it in traffic, high and tight in the open field. On the way down, make sure you’re securing it and going down to the ground. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you’re handing the ball back to the ref.’”

Edwards-Helaire admitted he may be nervous when he takes his first snap, but he did not worried about ball security.

“Always [emphasized] ball security since I’ve been playing football,” he said. “It’s my job as far as a running back to protect the football and our job as an offense to protect the football, so we’re going out there to protect the football, hold it high and tight and secure it.”

Bieniemy finished his presser with one final note on the dual-threat running back, one that makes him relatable to Chiefs fans after months of anticipation.

“I’m looking forward to watching the kid play,” he said “There’s a number of things that he put on tape in college. We all know how tremendous of a runner he is. He has great instincts between the tackles as a runner. He has great feet in traffic. He wasn’t as good as he would like to have been in protection, but he’s worked his tail off with coach Deland, and he’s done a heck of a job of working with Pat and the O-line, making sure he understands all the protection calls, so he can do the right things when called upon. But also, too, he’s done a heck of a job out of the backfield for us this entire camp of catching the football. He’s a football player that happens to play the running back position.”

The idea that Edwards-Helaire’s dynamic ability is being added to an already-dynamic offense has the NFL world abuzz. But the rookie running back has made sure not to buy into the hype.

“I really don’t be on Twitter or Instagram. As far as fantasy and just being online and just social media and everything, I’m really not being on it, so I really don’t see a lot of it. I come to practice every day, come to work, look at my stuff at night and do my job. Ultimately, I’m just doing what I’ve been doing my whole life. I don’t look into those little things as far as, ‘This is what everybody’s expecting.’ I know what I expect from myself, I know what they expect from me at this organization, and I’m here to do what I need to do.”