After the Kansas City Chiefs completed their training camp practice at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri on Saturday, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy spoke about some of the team’s rookie skill players. But he also addressed two players who had disappointing seasons in 2021.
One of them was wide receiver Josh Gordon, who has had a checkered NFL career since first joining the league a decade ago. During his spectacular All-Pro season in 2013, he led the league with 1,646 receiving yards. But the league has also suspended Gordon a total of five times, causing him to miss more than three full seasons.
Hoping to find some of his youthful spark, Kansas City signed Gordon to its practice squad in late September of 2021. Moved to the active roster two weeks later, Gordon appeared in 12 games — starting seven of them — but accumulated just five catches (on 12 targets) for 32 yards and a touchdown.
After that disappointing performance, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for the Chiefs to move on from the 31-year-old wideout. But the team re-signed him for 2022 — and coaches like Bieniemy still believe he will eventually find his way to being a contributor.
“This has been a fun process with Josh,” said the offensive coordinator on Saturday, “because first and foremost, after going through it for a season, he had an offseason to spend time with us. He’s in tremendous shape. On some of the stuff, he’s still learning. But it’s been fun working with him: because the thing I love about him is that he’s the guy who is going to give you all that he has.”
Bieniemy also said that he displays the work ethic and leadership that coaches love to see.
“He works hard,” he said. “He practices hard. If he makes a mistake, he’s like, ‘Hey, coach. I screwed that up.’ He’s accountable. And he understands his place. And then on top of that, he’s providing leadership to the young guys, Everything that he’s doing? We can’t ask for any more.”
Whether Gordon can again find his way onto the Week 1 roster remains to be seen — and whether his production will justify that roster spot is also unknown. But it’s clear the Chiefs still see something in him.
Bieniemy also addressed the situation with third-year running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who has not only missed a dozen of the 39 games the team has played since he was selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, but has never been utilized the way he was at LSU, where fully a quarter of his career yardage came from catching passes. In his senior season with the Tigers, he had 55 receptions to go along with 215 rushing attempts. But in his injury-shortened 2021 season in Kansas City, the running back had just 19 receptions with 119 carries.
Bieniemy said that part of the blame for that comes from the Chiefs failing to target the running back more often.
“We just have to make sure that we’re emphasizing it more — and putting him in position to have an opportunity to make plays on the perimeter,” he acknowledged.
Bieniemy also noted that Edwards-Helaire has done his part to remain healthy in the offseason — and noted the swagger the running back expressed on Thursday, when he claimed to be the NFL’s best pass-catching running back.
“We’ll debate that here a little later,” smiled Bieniemy. “But I love his confidence.”
Then the coordinator chose his words carefully.
“I will say this: Clyde is a unique football player,” he said. “Let me make sure I say this the right way: Clyde is a very good football player — who happens to play the running back position. So we have to make sure that we can maximize all the gifts that he gives us by putting him in those situations where he can go out there and be as effective [in] helping us to win.”
Once again: it’s reasonable to be concerned that Edwards-Helaire has not yet justified the first-round pick that was used to acquire him two years ago. But it’s also important to understand that for whatever reason, the Chiefs have not used him in the way that we (or even they) expected. With wide receiver Tyreek Hill no longer part of the squad, could Edwards-Helaire finally carve out a different role in what we presume will be new-look Kansas City offense?
Week 1 can’t get here soon enough.