The Kansas City Chiefs are nearing their first preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday as training camp continues at Missouri Western.
Veterans like MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce know what to expect from training camp — and that first preseason game. The rookies, who have been thrown in to rookie camp, OTAs, minicamp and now training camp, are preparing for their first game on the biggest stage.
While the preseason game doesn’t mean much other than testing out players in various positions, it gives the rookies a chance to shine and earn a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has said throughout training camp the rookies are doing well and have a chance to make an impact. He said they all still have a lot to do to earn the playing time they want.
“You have to earn it by working hard,” Reid said after last Saturday’s practice. “Then, when you have opportunities, take advantage of the opportunities. Don’t make the same mistake twice. All of those things become important if you want to get into the play rotation.”
Rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman — as well as many of the other rookies — said he knows he can’t make the same mistake twice because that results in coaches and teammates losing faith in his abilities.
“As (Hardman) picks up the offense — where he needs to go each route — he’s able to recognize coverage based off stuff we’re doing pre-snap or post-snap,” Mahomes said after last Friday’s practice. “I think that’s stuff he is picking up with every rep he’s getting. He’s not making the same mistake twice. Those are good because when you get guys like that who can play at a high speed and learn from their mistakes, those guys end up being good players.”
Hardman is one of the rookies expected to make an immediate impact for the Chiefs.
He has been working behind receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins on the offense. Hill has also been a leader for the rookie on special teams as a punt and kick returner alongside Tremon Smith, who just recently moved from the defense to the offensive side of the ball.
“(Sammy and I) help each other out. All the receivers do that,” Hardman said after Monday’s practice. “As a whole, it makes us so good because we try to learn from everyone, like, ‘What are you doing on this? What are you doing on that?’ That’s just what we are trying to do.”
Even as Hardman continues to fix mistakes by talking with his teammates, assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Dave Toub said Hardman is a “work in progress” and the preseason games would give him a chance to prove himself in action.
As game day nears and camp continues, daily practices have gradually increased their intensity. Reid said he’s liked what he’s seen from the rookies early on as new installs are added and things are tweaked.
“In general, I’d tell you that they’re improving every day,” Reid said after Saturday’s practice. “They’re working hard at it. One advantage of being up here is that there’s not a lot else to do other than meet, eat and practice.”
Besides Hardman, safety Juan Thornhill has been an impressive rookie.
On Sunday, Aug. 4, the Chiefs released their first unofficial depth chart, which doesn’t necessarily mean a lot this early on, but Thornhill is listed as the No. 2 in the free safety position. Reid said Thornhill’s biggest step to making an impact is getting more reps.
“Right now, he’s getting a ton of (reps),” Reid said after Saturday’s practice. “Experience will be the thing. He’s a young guy.”
Chiefs new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has worked a lot of people into several positions and, according to Reid, that gives Thornhill a chance to be out on the field with experienced safeties like Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorenson.
Toub said tight end John Lovett has been impressive on the offensive side. Lovett was a quarterback in college and joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent.
“The first guy that stands out in my mind is Lovett. He’s a guy that’s doing well on offense — he’s catching the ball, he’s learning stuff,” Toub said. “Obviously he’s a smart guy — he went to Princeton — he comes out and he doesn’t make mistakes mentally, and I think he’s got the speed and we’re gonna find out about the toughness when the preseason games come up.”
Lovett was listed as the No. 2 fullback behind Anthony Sherman.
Reid said last Saturday he hadn’t started thinking about the game against Cincinnati, but he said he usually plays the No. 1 players on the depth chart during the first quarter.
No rookies were listed in that No. 1 spot on the depth chart, but there’s going to be plenty of opportunities for all of the rookies to prove themselves as the preseason rolls on.