Two years ago, before the Kansas City Chiefs had won a Super Bowl and we knew nothing of a worldwide pandemic, Mecole Hardman was a rookie — the new kid on the block. A speedster from the University of Georgia, Hardman was entering the NFL with the league’s best quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
It was only Mahomes’ second year as a starter, but his MVP effort gave him the clout of a 10-year veteran. Hardman had tweeted a photo of himself, saying it was a sneak peek of what was to come.
Yeah as long as you keep running and stop slowing down https://t.co/szKBwuLJlq— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) May 20, 2019
It’s been more than two years since Mahomes’ tweet, and in two seasons, Hardman has compiled more than 1,100 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns. Yet, when Sammy Watkins left for Baltimore this offseason, it has hardly been assumed that Hardman would be the next weapon in line.
The Chiefs were interested in JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency before bringing back veteran Demarcus Robinson and drafting Cornell Powell. Byron Pringle, a former undrafted free agent, has almost equal buzz to Hardman, the former second-rounder. That has to hurt for a player who could be up for a contract extension next offseason.
Even so, Hardman explained three days ago that he is not feeling any pressure. And maybe that has come from a newfound attitude that his quarterback has clearly noticed.
“With Mecole, I don’t know the best way [to put it],” started Mahomes. “The maturity — of how he practices, of how he goes about his business — is completely different. We’ve always seen the talent. We’ve always seen the speed — the way he’s able to make plays happen — but him being so comfortable with the offense and with just how we do things, I think it’s going to take his game to a new level.”
And already in camp, the Mahomes-to-Hardman connection has proved fruitful. One of the best plays for the offense Friday was a 55-yard pass from Mahomes to Hardman on a would-be easy touchdown.
Mahomes loaded up for the deep post to Hardman. That would be good for a 55yd+ TD. Thornhill and Sorensen were deep in coverage. Mahomes gave Hardman time to run under it. #Chiefs— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) July 30, 2021
When asked about Hardman’s aforementioned “maturity,” Hill tapped into some humor before confirming his quarterback’s words.
“Mecole, maturity!?” jokingly gasped Hill. “All right, now let me stop. As far as Mecole... we all have that mentality of wanting to compete and challenge each other. Each and every day, he comes out here — he wants to listen, he wants to learn from the older guys. As far as meeting rooms, he’s locked in each and every day. He’s asking questions; he’s doing this, doing that — the same thing for me.
“I told him, ‘Look, if you want to be great, you got to be coachable, dog. You can’t come in this league and think you know it all. I know you was a second-round pick — boom, boom boom. Look. If coach Reid says you got to do this on your route, you do it. I don’t care if you got open, dog. There are always ways you can get better of that route.’”
Hardman has apparently accepted the advice, coming a long way since his “keep running” moment.
“He’s taken that to another level,” added Hill. “He’s listening. He’s doing awesome with it.”
- The weather in St. Joseph Friday morning was sunny and hot. The temperature was in the low 80s when practice began at 9:15 a.m., with a real feel of 86 degrees.
- Anthony Hitchens, who tweaked his hamstring on Wednesday, appeared to try to test it in warmups and wound up not doing much work on the day. Tight end Travis Kelce, who left practice with hip and back tightness Thursday, came down to the field midway through the workout to watch his teammates.
- With Hitchens unavailable, Ben Niemann was once again at MIKE, Willie Gay Jr. was once again at SAM and rookie Nick Bolton was once again at the WILL position. Gay registered another Mahomes pass breakup in seven-on-sevens for a total of at least three in camp. Here it is:
Niemann also broke up a Mahomes pass on Friday.
- The Chiefs’ top two cornerbacks are currently Charvarius Ward and L’Jarius Sneed, with Sneed shifting in for nickel looks. The first two days, Mike Hughes would enter the formation outside in the place of Sneed, but Deandre Baker got the first crack at that work on Friday. We’ll continue to watch that third cornerback battle, with defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo scheduled to speak to the media on Wednesday.
- Ward likely had the play of the day on Friday, breaking up a deep ball from Mahomes intended for Hardman during the final 11-on-11 period.
- The top offensive line saw the same players Friday with one minor wrinkle. Late in practice, I noticed Lucas Niang on at right tackle in place of Mike Remmers for a handful of plays. We’ll monitor if Niang sees increased work on Saturday and as camp continues. Rookie center Creed Humphrey and rookie right guard Trey Smith remained in place. The second-team offensive line has remained consistent throughout, with veteran Austin Blythe as the backup center. However, I have seen Nick Allegretti taking occasional center snaps in seven-on-seven.
- The Chiefs have gone with a healthy amount of two-safety looks to start camp, with Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen on the field for most, if not all. That means Juan Thornhill has worked mostly with the second team. But he made a big play with the first team on Friday in seven-on-seven work — a diving interception off Patrick Mahomes — and here it is:
- Mahomes and wide receiver Tyreek Hill have shaken off any rust we may have seen between the duo on day one of full-team work. Mahomes found Hill through a Bermuda Triangle of three defenders just inside the left sideline Friday.
- Mahomes had a nice connection with wide receiver Marcus Kemp on a post route during seven-on-seven Friday. Good for Kemp, who has to stave off about 10 receivers, including Antonio Callaway, to make the 53. “Someone that has that speed that can make contested catches is a great guy to have on the field,” said Mahomes about Callaway.
- Rookie wide receiver Cornell Powell seemed to bring in everything that hit him in the hands on Friday after dealing with a few drops in the early days of camp.
- Bubble wide receiver Maurice Ffountain caught my eye again, as he brought in another ball as he was heavily contested during 11-on-11s. Speaking of bubble receivers, Jody Fortson looks to have added some quickness to his game. I wonder if he came into camp a little lighter.
- Free-agent signee Jerrick McKinnon has looked healthy, which has been the problem in his seven-year career. “I think he’s going to be a playmaker,” said Mahomes of McKinnon after practice Friday. “The way he’s able to run the ball but then catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s a true playmaker that I think will be a true part of our offense.”
- Running back Darwin Thompson may have already been in trouble making this roster, but McKinnon’s performance while he sits on the COVID-19 list is making his case worse.
- The starter, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, saw plenty of rush opportunities during 11-on-11s Friday in preparation for padded practices to begin next week. Though McKinnon has looked good, as mentioned, Darrel Williams has continued to be the first back behind Edwards-Helaire to get looks with the first team.
- Quarterback Anthony Gordon showed some added zip on passes Friday, though I believe Shane Buechele has been the better practice squad option overall through three looks.
- Harrison Butker began kicking at the 15-yard line and moved back in 5-yard increments until he missed Friday. Butker made six kicks in a row (33, 38, 43, 48, 53, and 58) before missing the 60-plus yarder short and right.
Press conferences (Spotify)
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- Returned to practice: Long snapper James Winchester (from COVID-19 list)
- Did not practice (COVID-19 list): Running back Darwin Thompson
- Did not practice (injury): Defensive end Malik Herring (ACL), linebacker Anthony Hitchens (hamstring), tight end Nick Keizer (back spasms), tight end Travis Kelce (tight back and hips), right guard Kyle Long (tibia), safety Armani Watts (foot).
Tweet of the day
Our John Dixon compiled all of Friday’s tweets here. Here is the tweet of the day:
A jersey I did not expect to see at camp. pic.twitter.com/i6Es1eMZ8K— Sam McDowell (@SamMcDowell11) July 30, 2021
As if fans did not appreciate watching Mahomes enough, a few in attendance were reminded of yesteryear on Friday. Don’t hassel the Cassel.
Quote of the day
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill when it was suggested (by me) that perhaps cornerback L’Jarius Sneed could keep up with him: “Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.”
The Chiefs resume camp with their fourth practice Saturday at 9:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time. Afterward, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and several players will speak to the media. The Chiefs will have a day off on Sunday.