Sat, 25 Sep 2021

Here’s what stood out at Chiefs’ camp on Friday Matt McMullen

It was day three of practices up in St. Joseph on Friday morning as the Kansas City Chiefs continued training camp.

In terms of who didn't take the field, the injury report remained the same as Thursday. Tight end Travis Kelce (hip/back tightness), linebacker Anthony Hitchens (hamstring), defensive end Malik Herring (knee), tight end Nick Keizer (back), offensive lineman Kyle Long (leg) and tailback Darwin Thompson (COVID protocols) were among those who didn't practice.

Here are five observations from Friday's practice session.

1. The Chiefs worked on the running game a bunch.

Kansas City devoted a significant portion of Friday's practice to their rushing attack, which is significant when considering that the running game wasn't as much of a focus point during the offseason workout program (such as OTAs and minicamp) due to practice limitations.

The Chiefs can finally start working on that aspect of their offense during training camp and they didn't waste any time doing so, providing both their stable of tailbacks and the new-look offensive line with numerous reps on Friday as part of team drills.

Tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire was obviously a big part of that, and he impressed throughout the period, but it was also an opportunity for offseason-acquisition Jerick McKinnon to show what he could do out of the backfield. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes spoke highly of McKinnon - who tallied 572 yards from scrimmage last season for San Francisco - after practice.

"He's going to be a playmaker. I've seen it from day one right when he got in here," Mahomes said. "The way he's able to run the ball and catch the ball out of the backfield, he's a true playmaker who will be a big part of our offense."

2. Juan Thornhill tallied an interception.

A defensive storyline to follow this year will be the play of Thornhill, who earned a spot on numerous "All-Rookie" teams back in 2019 but tore his ACL in Week 17 of that season. He was healthy and available for the entire 2020 campaign - which was a testament to his work ethic that offseason as he got himself back without missing any games - but Thornhill admitted last week that the mental aspect of returning from the injury was difficult and didn't allow him to fully reach the level of play he demonstrated as a rookie.

He says he feels 100 percent now, however, and it showed during the 7-on-7 period of Friday's practice when Mahomes fired a pass just off the fingertips of his intended receiver and Thornhill changed course in an instant to make a diving interception.

It was an athletic pick that drew cheers from the crowd and looked just like the kind of play Thornhill made look routine during his rookie year.

3. Patrick Mahomes and Mecole Hardman connected on a deep touchdown pass.

One of the many reasons that fans come out to training camp is to watch Mahomes fire a deep touchdown with their own eyes, and those at practice on Friday were treated to just that toward the end of the final team period.

Mahomes wound up and tossed a mammoth pass right down the middle of the field for Hardman, who hauled it in for a 50-yard score to the applause of the fans in attendance. It was an awesome connection that once again showed off how lethal this offense can be at any moment.

4. Charvarius Ward recorded an impressive pass-breakup down the sideline.

Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense present a challenge unlike any other in the NFL, making the fact that the defense has the opportunity to face them every day in practice all the more rewarding in terms of growth. That was on display during a team period on Friday, when Mahomes unloaded a deep ball down the sideline for Hardman in single coverage.

This connection is often unstoppable, as it combines Mahomes' big arm with Hardman's electric speed, but Ward made one of the best plays of the day by sticking with Hardman down the sideline and getting his hand on the ball right at the catch point to prevent an otherwise certain reception.

It was a really impressive play all around that most players simply cannot make.

5. Ben Niemann and Willie Gay Jr. each put together strong practices.

Niemann - who is a regular on the defense at this point with 45 appearances and seven starts over the last three years - has taken on an even larger role during the last two practices with reps at middle linebacker in lieu of the injured Anthony Hitchens. The former undrafted free agent made the most of them on Friday, too, recording an impressive pass breakup during team drills by moving to his left and getting his hand on a short pass intended for an otherwise open receiver.

It was an athletic play but also one that demonstrated Niemann's experience at the position, further exemplifying the importance of depth throughout the roster. Niemann's impact on the Chiefs' fortunes dates all the way back to his performance in Super Bowl LIV, when he made multiple plays in the fourth quarter - both defensively and on special teams - that helped make Kansas City's comeback a reality. That experience is invaluable, and with Hitchens not practicing on Friday, Niemann showed his worth once again.

Gay, meanwhile, managed to step in front of a Mahomes' pass intended for the speedy Tyreek Hill and make a diving pass breakup during a 7-on-7 period. It was another entry into what has been an impressive last several months for Gay, who credits a full offseason program with his development - particularly in coverage - entering his sophomore campaign.

"I credit that to knowing the details of the play call, knowing exactly where to drop and just doing my job to a whole new level this year," Gay said. "Even in OTAs this year and just going into another year of the same scheme, it's slowed down a lot. It's a lot easier."

The Chiefs return to the field for another day of practice on Saturday morning at 9:15 a.m. CT.

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