As a resident of the Kansas City area for most of my life, the trek to St. Joseph, Missouri to watch the Kansas City Chiefs’ training camp has become a yearly tradition. There is no better way to start the football season than waking up before the sun rises, finding some friends and heading north.
On Sunday, the Missouri Western State University training facility was a madhouse. It was reported that a capacity crowd was on hand. While the crowd was jovial, things on the field were business-like as the Chiefs began their run at another Lombardi Trophy.
Here are three things I observed during training camp’s first full practice.
1. The offensive line was as expected
While the Chiefs retained the league’s best interior offensive line — right guard Joe Thuney, center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith — there were two new faces running with the first team.
New Chiefs OT Jawaan Taylor getting in some pre-practice work. pic.twitter.com/3BH6Ap4N8k— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) July 23, 2023
Right tackle Jawaan Taylor was a key free agent acquisition. A lock to start, Taylor found himself on the right side of the line on Sunday, while free-agent veteran Donovan Smith lined up on the left side. There had been speculation about whether Smith would start — but as many predicted, he got the first crack in training camp.
Donovan Smith getting some work in during the OL Indy period. This drill is great drill for pass protection and conditioning purposes. pic.twitter.com/RjaTY3Nzgl— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) July 23, 2023
Evaluating linemen in non-contact practices can be hard — but for now, it appears Kansas City is sticking to a plan for how they will start the season.
2. The team was active at tight end
The Chiefs wasted no time getting all of their tight ends involved in practice. Travis Kelce was as expected, but backup Noah Gray received plenty of repetitions and targets from Patrick Mahomes.
Noah Gray running with the first team and getting a reception in the offensive unit period.— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) July 23, 2023
Gray played extensively with the first team, working in a few different spots. Tight ends Jody Fortson, Blake Bell and Matt Bushman also got targets and converted them into receptions.
The Chiefs are emphasizing the TE’s today.— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) July 23, 2023
We don’t know if this early look was just a way to give all the new wideouts more time to gel with the quarterbacks or if the team intends to utilize more tight ends on offense. But with so many new faces among the wide receivers, it makes sense that the Chiefs should open camp by going to familiar faces.
3. Practice was at a high tempo
The first day of training camp is always fun — but without pads and full contact, it still doesn’t feel quite like the real thing. The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and its players’ union limits the team to just helmets and jerseys for the first two practice days — and overall, teams are permitted just 16 padded sessions during camp.
But while heavy doses of hitting and two-a-day practices have been litigated out of the league’s summer workouts, that hasn’t stopped the Chiefs from creating an intense working environment. I would invite football curmudgeons who balk at what NFL training camps have become to watch one of Andy Reid’s practice sessions.
Kansas City’s head coach is well-known to conduct one of the league’s most difficult training camps. In large part, this is due to the tempo of his practices, which maximizes repetitions in both drills and scrimmages. Reid’s approach is simple: if he can’t 40 full-contact plays, he’ll run 80 non-contact plays at a very fast pace. While players tend to show up in relatively good shape, this tempo is intended to get them into “football shape.”
On Sunday, we saw this once again. In individual drills, at least two or three players were always going. The offensive and defensive unit periods were just as fast, with no time for hesitation through rapid-fire play-calling.
The 11-on-11 periods matched this pace. While there was no contact — and most of the offensive and defensive lines reached a “fit position” before shutting down — the plays were coming in fast enough to ensure everyone on the field was always ready to go mentally.