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Mecole Hardman adjusted his mindset for the critical season he’s facing

Coming into his third year, the Kansas City wideout knows he has big shoes to fill.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Going into his third season, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman has arrived at a critical juncture of his career. Up to this point, he’s been able to fulfill a need as a kick returner and offensive role player. But now that wide receiver Sammy Watkins has moved on to the Baltimore Ravens, there’s pressure on Hardman to become the team’s true second wide receiver — even though he denies feeling it.

As the team’s training camp got underway at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said he was seeing something different about Hardman.

“With Mecole, I don’t know the best way [to put it],” he said. “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.”

Reminded of Mahomes’ remarks when he met with reporters after Monday’s practice, Hardman gave his own perspective.

“[It’s] my third year [after] coming into the league,” he noted. “[I’m] getting older — and when you get older comes maturity. So I think my mindset when I came in here was different than the past two years. So I guess he’s just looking at somebody that’s eager to get down and [get] working and playing — trying to solidify himself on the field.”

But Hardman also wanted to point out that it wasn’t so much a different mindset. Rather, it was one that just needed to be adjusted for the circumstances.

Divisional Round - Cleveland Browns v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

“It’s kind of the same mindset,” he explained. “I wanted to come in and still do what I want to do — and when I’m called on, perform at a high level. But now this year, it’s more like, ‘You can be that guy’ — that you can go in there and you’re going to feel every play and you can do this and do that. So I think the mindset just shifted to, ‘I need to be the guy [who can] be on the field all the time — [one] that they can count on whether it’s third down, fourth down or whatever it is.”

To get to that point, Hardman said he isn’t focusing on improving a particular part of his game. Instead, he wants to improve every part of his game.

“Getting off the line, getting off the jam and using my hands more,” he gave as examples. “Routes are pretty good right now; I think I’m doing good on my routes. Catching the ball, being more aware of coverages... the whole thing. I want to get better at every aspect — so when that time comes, it’s no question.”

And so far, Hardman seems to think it’s working.

“Things have been going good,” he said of his progress. “I think I’m having a solid camp. [There’s] still a lot to improve on, which I’m trying to do each and every day. But another way I’m having a good solid camp [is that] things come easy; things are clicking.”

Hardman knows the team might ultimately decide to fill Watkins’ shoes with multiple players — a kind of WR2-by-committee approach. But he said that he’s going to be ready for whatever way it plays out.

“Sammy’s not here,” he said, “so there are a lot more snaps to go around to replace that. Somebody’s going to have to step up and fill in the role — whether it’s two of us, three of us or however they want to do it.

“But I know that whenever they call my number, I’ll be ready.”