Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs should have a good understanding of what they have in running backs Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire by now.
So when undrafted rookie Deneric Prince began popping off at practice this offseason, the excitement built quickly. Prince fanned the flames by making some very impressive catches down the field at training camp, plays you don’t expect from a running back that measured in at 6 feet and 216 pounds.
Deneric Prince with an impressive grab down the field on a pass from Gabbert. Underrated aspect of the UDFA’s game #Chiefs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) July 23, 2023
Prince has done enough to be named the starting kick returner, but his role in the offense may not be as straightforward. After plenty of run with the starters during camp, Prince didn’t play a single snap with the first-team offense in the preseason opener; that includes when backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert filled in on the second drive.
When he did play, it was with the second-team offense as the lead back. However, when that unit faced third down, fourth-year running back La’Mical Perine entered the game both times. Perine was targeted as the check down on one and ran a route to the sideline on the other.
More on the previous note: Perine was the second back to touch the football for most of Tuesday/Wednesday. It had been Prince before the preseason game vs. Saints, but the Chiefs are seeing what they have in the 2020 fourth-rounder.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) August 16, 2023
Overall, Perine took 19 snaps on Sunday, and Prince took 17. In the practices following the game, Perine’s playing time increased — which led Arrowhead Pride’s Pete Sweeney to inquire with head coach Andy Reid about the 2020 fourth-round pick on Thursday. Reid had only positive notes for Perine.
“He’s got a knack, kind of does everything well,” Reid described of Perine. “He is good in the pass game, he’s good in protection, good in the run game, good eyes, vision, feet. He has been very consistent throughout the camp, and he picks things up easy. It has been good for him.”
Sounds like La'Mical Perine was eating into Deneric Prince's snaps this week at #Chiefs camp— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 17, 2023
Perine is in his 4th yr, & could may be more comfortable in pass pro
Here, Prince (#34) cut blocks inside blitz, tripping C in process. Perine more calmly rides blitz out of pocket pic.twitter.com/PbThCL0sN6
Reid mentioned pass protection, one aspect of the game that Perine looked more comfortable in than Prince did on Sunday. That’s to be expected with the difference in experience — but it does hurt Prince; primarily, he was being utilized as a receiver in camp.
Prince goes for the cut block, which he executes. However, using that move on an inside blitz can trip up the interior offensive linemen — as it does here. Perine’s technique for picking up an inside rusher was more calm, staying on his feet and riding the blitzer away from the throwing point.
If the coaching staff can’t rely on Prince as a pass blocker right now, it becomes harder to justify putting him on the field for pass downs.
Andy mentioned Perine having "good eyes, vision, feet" when asked about him today. That may be his way of telling Prince to work on those things.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 17, 2023
2 different run schemes, but Prince's false step after handoff makes him late to the open run lane
No wasted movement for Perine pic.twitter.com/5hnOIFyxmw
If Prince isn’t featured on pass downs, he has the physical profile to be an asset as a ball carrier on early downs — but that is not part of his game that impressed camp observers.
While Reid complimented Perine’s footwork, he could have been subtly telling Prince to improve his. After he receives this handoff, he takes a false step away from the run direction, which makes him a step slow to the lane that developed. On Perine’s handoff, the called run play is different, but Perine is more efficient in his takeoff, which helps him maximize the blocking in front of him.
Prince has received more of a load than any undrafted rookie would expect at training camp, and the team may feel like his workload needs to be lightened as the season creeps closer.
However, the team must also count on the backs they send out on the field. Prince may have further to go in that respect than Perine does — and the team may have realized that in the last week of training camp.