Rookie names have highlighted Kansas City Chiefs training camp, but no name has stuck out as much as Mecole Hardman.
Hardman, a former Georgia Bulldog, played in 11 games in his first season of college football. He was solely a kick returner, and he has been working in that role with the Chiefs.
Hardman also has been working behind and learning from several veterans on the Chiefs offense. Transitioning running back Tremon Smith and wide receiver Tyreek Hill have been the Chiefs leaders on punt and kick return, and Hardman has been taking reps behind them.
Hardman said he isn’t concerned with anything other than getting better and working on perfecting the speed of the professional game.
“It’s football. You play, you learn, you practice, you try to make it perfect,” Hardman said. “It’s all the same thing, just a little faster.”
Head coach Andy Reid also said Hardman is continuing to work on getting used to the speed of the game.
“He had to get used to ‘everything is fast,” Reid said. “There are certain ways you set things up but it’s still fast, so there are no plays off. When you’re a receiver in this offense, it’s not going to be all hitch routes — you’re gonna run a couple plays down the field.”
Hardman was a long-ball receiver with the Bulldogs, and Reid said Hardman is improving his short-to-intermediate game to become more well-rounded with the Chiefs.
“He’s a good route runner. Now, the things we’re asking him to do, some of those things he didn’t have to do,” Reid said. “So we’re asking him to do all the short intermediate stuff too, things over the middle, and some of that’s new for him.”
Hardman has also been learning from wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins is in his sixth season in the NFL and his second with the Chiefs. Watkins spent the 2018 season catching passes from MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes II and knows what to expect, often lending advice to the second-round pick.
“Sammy is a great guy,” Hardman said. “He works hard. He does everything right — just seeing him work and actually being in the room with him, taking time with him after practice going through certain routes, and what he does on certain routes.”
Thanks to Watkins’ work, Hardman said he has “too much confidence” in what he’s learning and applying to his chemistry with Mahomes.
“Our chemistry is growing, and I think I’m starting to figure out where (Mahomes) wants me to be at on the field,” Hardman said. “I think he’s starting to figure out who I am as a player, my speed, my routes. We still have some improving to do before the first game, but right now, I think we’re solid.”
That first preseason game is right around the corner, set for 7 p.m. Saturday at Arrowhead against the Cincinnati Bengals.
For Hardman, who often times played in front of sold-out SEC crowds, the game will be surreal until kickoff.
“It’ll be the same kind of surreal feeling because I’m actually in the league now — this is real against another team,” Hardman said, “but once the ball kicks off, it’s football, so I’m ready to go out there and play.”
Until then, though, Hardman said he wants to focus on getting through training camp and becoming the best player — wherever that may be on the field — and gain the trust of his coaches and teammates.
“And whatever it leads to on the field, it leads to on the field,” Hardman said.