Junior Hemingway did his best to make sure no one forgot about him amid the Chiefs’ crowded wide receiver battle that’s winding down its St. Joseph stop.
The imposing third-year target out of Michigan missed nearly two weeks with a sore hamstring and did not play in Kansas City’s preseason opener against Cincinnati, but no receiver separated from the jumbled pack that’s formed behind Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery like Hemingway did Wednesday at Missouri Western.
Entering a 2-minute drill-themed workout as the starting slot with Bowe and Avery flanking the unit’s edges, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Hemingway established his presence quickly, breaking open on quick routes and drawing three straight targets from Alex Smith. Hemingway snagged each to help the Chiefs’ No. 1 offense into the red zone, and although none of the three offensive assortments could score during the drill, Hemingway (13 receptions, 225 yards, two touchdown catches last season) looked to be making up for lost time.
An abnormally large inside presence — the NFL’s top slot pass-catchers Wes Welker, Randall Cobb and Percy Harvin are all sub-6-0 and well under 200 pounds — Hemingway snared a touchdown from Smith, creeping open on a crossing pattern in the end zone’s left corner as the second-year quarterback surveyed his options.
Despite not being a flashy new name that’s wowed St. Joseph spectators with training camp catches — Jon Baldwin did this regularly two years ago before sputtering badly when it mattered — Hemingway has a slight leg up on his reserve contemporaries after seeing extensive work in Kansas City last year for the first time.
“It’s hard sitting out watching, but you gotta stay positive, because just as my job is being on the field, when I was hurt, my job was to get back on the field. I had to take that into consideration with everything,” said Hemingway, a seventh-round Chiefs draft choice in ’12.
“... (2013) helped me out because I know what to expect now when I’m out there on the field and everything, and that helps me prepare every way possible.”
The Conway, S.C., native sits with the second team on the depth chart along with ex-49ers first-rounder A.J. Jenkins, exchanged for Baldwin in last summer’s change-of-scenery swap, but despite missing most of camp he remains a good bet to make the 53-man roster. The younger standouts — Albert Wilson, Frankie Hammond, Jr. — must continue their intriguing auditions to earn a spot in a wideout cadre that will be either five or six deep post-preseason.
“I’ll tell you what, he’s been out for a while with that (hamstring); he needed this work real bad,” said David Culley, Kansas City’s wide receivers leader and assistant head coach who’s served under head coach Andy Reid since Reid’s initial head-coaching gig in Philadelphia in 1999, of Hemingway. “He’s strong; he’s tough; he has a good feel for what we want in there. Even last year, when he came in and played for us not a lot on the inside, but when he did, he was very productive.
“Last year, (current Tennessee Titans target) Dexter (McCluster) was in there most of the time. Now, (Hemingway) is in there doing all of that work that he did. He’s getting more comfortable with it. We can do some more things in there because of his size and his strength than we did last year.”
Hammond and Jenkins also scored TDs — well, sequences that resemble them, which is good enough in training camp — on short catch-and-runs. Both will have a say along with Hemingway about how the pecking order below Bowe looks in September.
Degree of difficulty
on perpetual rise
The Chiefs’ questionable secondary, which was still missing All-Pro safety Eric Berry (heel) on Wednesday, held its own against the aforementioned wideout contingent. While it allowed a few scores during an 11-on-11 red zone drill, its lesser-regarded cogs intercepted three passes — one from each of the team’s top three quarterbacks who participated in the practice-closing drill.
Fourth-year man DeMarcus Van Dyke leapt for a pick on a Chase Daniel lob pass toward the end zone’s left corner, and current starting safety Daniel Sorensen lassoed a Smith toss that ricocheted off Bowe’s hands near the left boundary a few plays earlier.
In a setting where touchdowns are categorized liberally, Malcolm Bronson had a no-doubter when he stepped in front of Aaron Murray’s ill-timed attempt to force a pass to Demetrius Harris over the middle. Bronson, a safety who already has a preaseason pick-six, darted out of the end zone before stopping around the 30-yard line with no one in reasonable pursuit range.
That said, Kansas City’s secondary consists of Berry, one well-paid free agent who only recently reclaimed his starting spot (Sean Smith), two 2013 camp castoffs from Seattle and San Francisco — Ron Parker and Marcus Cooper — and a cast of virtual unknowns vying for time in a league that constantly rejiggers these positions’ job descriptions.
“It’s always been an offensive game, and the thing about it is it has to be entertaining. I don’t think the fans want to see any more 10-6, 14-10 games; they want scoring. You’ve got to take some of the rules away to enhance it,” said hall of famer and Chiefs secondary coach Emmitt Thomas.
“(The NFL) just said they were gonna get stricter with it. We kind of got out of sorts getting out of the 5-yard bump rule, maybe laying a little bit on them 7, 6 yards. They just said now they’re gonna institute the 5-yard bump rule, but other than that it’s the same.”
Thomas added the secondary will do some work in occupying the defensive backs’ hands in an effort to further prepare the back line for the league’s tighter constraints, illustrated by the 53 defensive holding calls and 27 illegal-contact whistles — a staggering number in just one week of preseason.