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2 players who have been quietly impressive at Chiefs’ training camp

Two padded practices in, there are two Kansas City players that need more love for their practice performances.

NFL: JUL 23 Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Saturday’s practice of the Kansas City Chiefs’ training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph — the team’s second session in full pads — was moved indoors after a strong storm with lightning entered the area.

But even with just a 9-on-7 run drill, a team period and an opportunity for linemen to go 1-on-1, I saw two underrated players putting on strong performances. One of them was a newly-signed veteran — but I’ll start with the ascending first-round pick who is showing improvement in his second year.

Defensive end George Karlaftis

NFL: OCT 02 Chiefs at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the departure of Frank Clark, the former Purdue edge rusher leads his position group — and in defensive tackle Chris Jones’ continuing absence, he’s the defensive line’s leader in all facets.

He has taken every first-team repetition in camp — and during individual periods, he leads the defensive front through drills. Wearing pads on Saturday, I saw him show off some full-contact skills.

During the 1-on-1s, Karlaftis got the opportunity to rush individually against new free-agent right tackle Jawaan Taylor — and impressed me with the smoothness of his reps.

In the first clip, Taylor initiates contact — but Karlaftis quickly counters by swiping Taylor’s hands while staying tight in his rush; he doesn’t go too wide while generating the power to knock Taylor’s paws out of his way. Within the same motion, Karlaftis works to get low and corner the pocket — and I was impressed with his shoulder dip to puncture the back of the pocket at roughly eight or nine yards. On a typical passing play, that’s the depth where the quarterback will be found.

In the second clip, he is sort of unbalanced because of an alignment adjustment right before the snap — but still puts together the hand-fighting and lean that tightens the pocket above all else.

Towards the end of his rookie season, Karlaftis’ edge-rushing technique became cleaner and more consistent. If he can work a decent bend into his rush around the outside, it can only help his bull rush. As a powerful player, that is his primary move.

The faster he puts it all together, the more fearsome the team’s pass rush will become.

Left tackle Donovan Smith

NFL: JUN 08 Kansas City Chiefs OTA Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On the other side of the trench, starting left tackle Donovan Smith has caught my eye. He doesn’t have the massive frame of former left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. — but that allows him to have cleaner movement skills. That’s what I saw during Saturday’s practice.

During the 9-on-7 run period, Smith was the back side tackle on an outside zone run in which running back La’Mical Perine was looking for a cutback lane. Perine found one because Smith was able to quickly get down on the defensive tackle. A slower-footed tackle can keep the back from hitting the seam at full speed — and also allows linebackers another beat to react to the back’s change in direction.

Then in the later 1-on-1 period, Smith went up against defensive end Charles Omenihu for two reps.

On the first, Smith’s jump off the snap is much better than Omenihu’s.

On the second, the veteran mirrored the pass rusher up the arc until Omenihu engages. Then you see Smith react by strong-arming the defender, which prevents any true penetration of the pocket as he continues around.

I think you see some veteran savvy in both of these plays. Smith maximizes the cadence to his advantage — but also remains patient during Omenihu’s attempt to transition his pass rush from speed to power.

While Smith has started well, it’s also important to note that he looks healthy. He is coming off a 2022 season in which he missed four games due to separate injuries to his elbow and foot.

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