A major winner of the first days of the Kansas City Chiefs’ training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph has been veteran wide receiver Richie James.
The sixth-year pro joined the Chiefs in April after spending 2022 with the New York Giants. Though originally thought to be signed for offensive depth and special teams, an early injury to fellow wide receiver Kadarius Toney appears to have opened a offensive role for him.
The offensive standouts were WR Richie James and RB Deneric Prince, as I mentioned in a previous live-tweet. Prince had at least five catches and James, the new No. 17, looked like the old No. 17 at times (seriously) with his quickness.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) July 23, 2023
Speaking after Wednesday’s practice, James appeared to be confident in his ability to help the team.
“I’m pretty comfortable,” he told reporters. “I’ve been in the league for a while now, so I’ve gotten a chance to play in different offenses. Some of the things are similar — some things are not — but you hear certain terminology. I’m starting to get more comfortable as we go along in camp.”
On Sunday, Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid noted that James comes to the team with an advantage: he was most recently with the Giants under offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, who played for Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2010-2011 and served as the Chiefs’ quarterbacks coach from 2018-2021.
“Yeah, Richie did a nice job,” Reid said of James’ efforts in the team’s initial full-squad practice. “He’s familiar with the offense because he had Mike Kafka, so he didn’t have to go through and learn everything here — maybe just a few new things — and I like what I’ve seen from him. He’s a good football player; has a great feel for things.”
Reid is not the only Chiefs coach to notice James’ efforts.
“Richie [is] doing well,” Kansas City’s offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said on Wednesday. “You can tell he’s been in other offenses. You can tell he’s been in this league. I think he’s 27. He’s been around a little bit.”
“Some of these wideouts, you know when they have a feel [where] they know the timing with the quarterback. They understand the defense. They know when to speed up their route; they know when to slow down their route. They know how to play in zone. He’s got that. You also have to have that confidence. I’m excited to see what he does this preseason.”
James claimed that the famous complexity of Reid’s schemes mitigates any advantage he might have had from working with Kafka.
“It’s like 10 %, to be honest,” he said of the similarities between the playbooks. “There’s so much going on in this offense — so many moving pieces. It’s very little [the same].”
In Kansas City, James has an opportunity to help his new team defend a Super Bowl title. After watching the Chiefs work all of their receivers into game action in 2022, he is happy to be a part of it.
“It’s cool watching them play,” James said of his new team’s offensive weapons, “and then it’s even better to play with them. You see they have that dog mentality — that killer mentality. It kind of makes you have that same mentality.”
That, of course, is largely non-negotiable when you’re playing with the face of the league: quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“He’s not going to take the easy throw,” James observed of the reigning league MVP. “He’s going to take the hardest throw. So when you get in that huddle, he’s saying, ‘Everybody stay alive.’ And you better stay alive — because that ball might be coming for you.
“He’ll take the hard throw every time. He’s challenging himself.”
James entered the league as a seventh-round selection for the San Francisco 49ers in the 2018 NFL Draft. By lasting in the league this long, he has more than beaten the odds. As he competes for a role with his third franchise, he knows that continuing to develop is crucial.
“I’m always progressing,” James declared. “I always feel like I have to get better regardless. The older I get, the more technical I’ve got to get. I’m not always going to be as fast as I used to be, but I’ve got to get that technical [stuff] down.”
Although he may see a bigger role on offense than originally predicted, James — with 75 career punt returns — will still likely see a heavy role on special teams. Given the Chiefs’ numerous miscues in the return game last season, James understands the main reason Kansas City may have signed him.
“I’m a punt returner,” he acknowledged, “that’s what it is.”
Chiefs assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Dave Toub will likely discuss James’ potential role in the return game when he speaks later in the week. The wide receiver shared the punt return advice Toub has been giving him.
“Just details,” he revealed. “Catching the ball [and] looking the ball in. When we’re setting the return up, looking left or looking right. Just little minor things. [He’s] just letting you play it for the most part.”