With 14 games played, a fair assessment could be that the 9-5 Kansas City Chiefs have won in spite of their wide receiver play rather than because of it.
Unforced errors and missed opportunities from the receiver room have plagued the Chiefs all season, and most would cite the group’s performance as the biggest reason to bet against Kansas City repeating as Super Bowl champions.
While the Chiefs’ front office has received fair skepticism in how they went about assembling weapons for quarterback Patrick Mahomes last offseason, many are also now questioning the performance of first-year wide receivers coach Connor Embree — who received the promotion after four seasons on head coach Andy Reid’s staff.
Embree appeared unfazed by his unit’s frustrating season when he spoke before Friday’s practice.
“It’s been great,” he stated. “I’ve learned a lot. There’s been some ups and downs, some challenges, good stuff, all of that. I think anyone’s first year in the NFL kind of has. It’s been good. I love it. I love doing what I do. I have a passion for this.”
The former Kansas and UNLV wide receiver long aspired to be on a coaching staff. Embree is the son of Miami Dolphins tight ends coach Jon Embree, who coached the position in Kansas City from 2006-08.
“I grew up in the football business,” Embree recalled. “My dad’s a coach. My uncle’s a coach. I went to school, and I knew I wanted to be a coach. I majored in general studies because they don’t have coaching degrees. Whatever’s the easiest so I can get out and go be a coach.”
One unquestioned success in Embree’s first year leading the room is the breakout of rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice. Rice set a club record for receiving touchdowns on Sunday, and the SMU product has an outside chance to be Kansas City’s first rookie with a 1,000-yard receiving season.
Reid cited Rice’s performance on Thursday as a reason he is still high on Embree.
“Connor,” Reid explained, “look at Rice, and that kind of gives you the answer to that part of it with his production.”
Embree discussed the positives he is seeing from Rice.
“It’s hard on anyone to play in the NFL, let alone a rookie,” said Embree. “The thing I like about him is he works hard — and then he lets me coach him hard. He’s fine with me getting on him. He just wants to get better. I try to challenge him every day in some type of way.”
Those challenges are necessary as a rookie season (and an overall whirlwind of a year) draws to a conclusion.
“Sending him an article talking about who’s the best rookie wideout out there,” Embree gave an example of a motivating technique for Rice. “Just to try to keep him motivated and keep him going because it’s hard for rookies. Just thinking about it, he went from playing his last senior year into the combine into the draft process into getting here.
“He hasn’t really had a break in over a year. He’s done great. Like I said, I like his attitude, his work ethic, and his play. He’s working hard in practice, and it’s showing up in the game.”
In a year where the Chiefs wide receivers appear to elicit déjà vu in repeated errors, Embree appreciates that Rice can learn from his.
“If [Rice] messes up on something and I tell him, he gets it fixed,” the coach declared. “That’s all you want as a coach. I’m fine with you messing up, especially as a rookie, but don’t do the same thing twice — and he doesn’t.”
The Chiefs should be very concerned about their wide receivers taking care of the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday. In Week 15, the Raiders forced five turnovers in their blowout win against the Los Angeles Chargers. Embree has taken notice of what their upcoming foe can do.
“I think there’s some teams,” he observed, “that do it better than others — or you can see it on film more than others. That’s every game. The ball is the goal — you’ve got to have the ball. We’re always harping on that, talking about it. We work ball security drills all the time. If someone sees the week before you get the ball punched out, they’re going to all be trying to punch the ball out. You’ve got to hold it high and tight.”