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Chiefs training camp notebook: Eric Bieniemy acknowledges Monday struggles, talks offensive line

Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Eric Bieniemy took the podium for his first turn of 2021 training camp on Monday — and the timing for the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator's initial press conference could not have been worse.

After what had been some solid days for the offense as camp began, quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw the ball away three times during Monday’s workout. As is well expected by now, Bieniemy made sure to verbally express his dismay.

“Being a competitor, we all want it to be perfect, but we understand the ebb and flow of practice,” said Bieniemy. “Sometimes you have good days, sometimes the guys on the other side have good days. The only thing you want to see is guys making sure that they continue to play with the effort that we expect them to play with. Then, when it’s all said and done with, we’ll coach it up on tape and just clean it up. So, [Monday], we didn’t have a very good day, but I’ll have an opportunity to really evaluate it once we go in there and look at it on tape.”

Bieniemy and his offensive coaches will evaluate Monday’s tape, establish what went wrong, and then address it with the players in anticipation of Tuesday’s workout, which will be critical: it’s the first padded look of the preseason.

“You want to see these guys communicate at all levels,” explained Bieniemy as he looked forward to Tuesday. “On top of that, you want to see them lined up and play hard together. You want to see them strain to finish. One thing about an offensive line group, they all have to work on gelling and making sure they’re on the same page.

“ I will say this: they’ve got a heck of an O-line coach that’s done a heck of a job with them. So far, so good. We come out here tomorrow with the pads on. Now we continue to roll.”

The offensive line’s starters at left tackle (Orlando Brown Jr.), left guard (Joe Thuney) and center (Creed Humphrey) are likely already set, with the right guard and right tackle positions still up for grabs. Rookie sixth-rounder Trey Smith has taken all of the Chiefs’ first-team reps at right guard this camp, while (now) rookie Lucas Niang has practiced the last two days at right tackle.

If Smith and Niang win the jobs, the Chiefs would start three rookies along the line in 2021. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid cited his success with rookie along the line on Saturday.

“I’m very excited about those young guys,” noted Bieniemy. “Coach (Andy) Heck is a hell of a coach. He does a great job with communicating. He’s done a great job over the years with teaching. He has a way with those guys. Those guys are doing a good job. Are they right where we need them to be right now? No, but that’s what training camp is for. In fact, as bad as you hate to see mistakes made, it’s almost good because now you can go out there and take a look at it on tape and have those guys learn from their mistakes. So, right now these guys are doing a heck of a job, they’re learning to strain the finish, and when it’s all said and done with, coach Heck is doing an outstanding job of collectively getting those guys to learn how to play together.”

The communication and chemistry appear to be coming along despite their lack of pro experience.

“It forces all of them to be accountable to one another because at that position you have to communicate,” added Bieniemy. “You have to have awareness and you’ve got to stay in contact with each other. So, it forces those guys to talk to one another, which is a great thing. So, all the little things that they’re not doing are going to help them as we continue to build.”

Padded practice will mean live periods and O-line-versus-D-line drills, allowing the coaching staff to get a sense of whether the rookies are ready for the spotlight. A lot can change Tuesday — or a lot may stay the same.

Observations

(Note: Monday’s observations were written by Arrowhead Pride lead analyst Ron Kopp, who was in attendance for the workout.)

  • The weather in St. Joseph Monday morning was beautiful. The temperature was in the low 70s when practice began at 9:15 a.m., and it grew to the mid-70s as the workout went on.
  • Tight end Travis Kelce was back practicing in both seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 work.
  • Linebacker Anthony Hitchens walked through things but didn’t play in the team periods. Linebacker Ben Niemann missed practice with the hamstring injury he suffered Saturday. As a result, third-year linebacker Darius Harris got an increase in first-team repetitions.
  • Midway through practice, safety Juan Thornhill exited with a groin injury — confirmed by the Chiefs after practice — so undrafted rookie safety Devon Key got a boost in snaps.
  • As the first-team defense ran through dime personnel on air, undrafted rookie DiCaprio Bootle was shadowing starter L’Jarius Sneed in the slot. Later, they showed a look where Bootle handled the slot while Sneed moved back to the outside.
  • Linebacker Willie Gay Jr. couldn’t contain his excitement for 11-on-11; he let out a loud shriek as the coaches called for the team portion of practice.
  • The running back passing game had a good start to practice: Clyde Edwards-Helaire took a quick-hitting screen and made a man miss in space. Shortly after, Darrel Williams caught a well-thrown touch pass from quarterback Patrick Mahomes on a wheel route.
  • The offense wore out the three tight end set: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray and Blake Bell all in one formation. Kelce and Gray saw catch opportunities out of these formations — including a contested catch by Kelce on the sideline after a play-action fake.
  • The Chiefs defensive line made plays in both phases of the game — but stood out against the run. Defensive tackle Jarran Reed was there to meet them back in the hole multiple times, Chris Jones had a tackle-for-loss chasing down a run away from him, and Frank Clark beat Orlando Brown Jr. on the edge to stuff an off-tackle run.
  • Defensive tackle Khalen Saunders had a would-be sack after quickly beating right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif in second-team 11-on-11.
  • Wide receiver Tyreek Hill continued to be the standout amongst the receiving corps. Still, reserve pass-catcher Marcus Kemp made multiple tough catches — including stretching out of bounds and toe-tapping on the sideline on a throw from Chad Henne.
  • Gay got his first interception of camp in seven-on-seven drills. He read Mahomes’ eyes as he dropped in coverage, quickly reacted to throw and jumped the intended target over the middle in a good position to return it.
  • Shortly after, miscommunication between Mahomes and Gray led to a pick-six by linebacker Nick Bolton in the flat. As Gray came across on a shallow crossing route, Mahomes anticipated Gray continuing the route to the flat — but instead, he sat down. Bolton saw the ball and made a play on the misplaced throw.
  • Rookie defensive end Joshua Kaindoh popped out later in team period. Against the third-team offense, he had back-to-back plays getting pressure on the quarterback. Later, he had a few snaps with the first-team defense as the right defensive end; he exploded off the line and penetrated the pocket on an inside stunt.
  • Darius Harris came away with a tough interception in coverage on Kelce towards the end of practice. Mahomes’ throw was behind the tight end — and Harris wrestled the ball away from Kelce’s hands.

Press conferences (Spotify)

If you can’t see the embed below, click here for Apple iTunes.

Injury report

  • Returned to practice: Tight end Travis Kelce (tight back and hips)
  • Did not practice (COVID-19 list): Running back Darwin Thompson
  • Did not practice (injury): Defensive end Malik Herring (ACL), tight end Nick Keizer (back spasms), right guard Kyle Long (tibia), linebacker Ben Niemann (hamstring), offensive lineman Mike Remmers (back spasms)
  • Did not participate in team drills (injury): linebacker Anthony Hitchens (hamstring), safety Armani Watts (foot)
  • Injured Monday: tight end Evan Baylis (ankle), safety Juan Thornhill (groin), wide receiver Chad Williams (groin)

Tweet of the day

Our John Dixon compiled all of Monday’s tweets here. Here is the tweet of the day:

The Honey Badger gets it.

Quote of the day

Patrick Mahomes talking to Kurt Warner about his fellow quarterbacks on NFL Network: “It’s been something that I’ve done kind of my entire career. I remember being in college and coach (Kliff) Kingsbury making me watch Aaron Rodgers and just watch how he plays the game. And I see certain things, and I’m like, ‘Man, I like that. I can do that. I can do similar stuff to that.’ And then there’s some stuff that he does that no one else in this world can do. So for me, it’s about finding the things I think that I can do, work on them in the offseason, in training camp, and in situations like this, and see if I can adapt that into my style and my game.

What’s next?

The Chiefs resume camp with their sixth full-team practice Tuesday at 9:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time. It is the first padded practice of 2021’s training camp. Afterward, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and several players will speak to the media.