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Summary from the Final Week of Camp
Somewhat surprisingly, Patrick Mahomes II helmed two entire possessions to open the team’s third and final preseason game. He opened the game in scorching fashion, completing passes to star pass-catchers Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Simply put, Mahomes looks healthy, collected, and in midseason form as he starts the chase for a third straight Super Bowl. If there’s a concern, it’s the reconstructed offensive line, but the newcomers have been impressive. Coach Andy Reid points out the three new starters “came from [college] teams that threw the ball, so they’ve got an understanding of the passing game.” That’s essential in keeping Mahomes upright and this offense atop the league standings.
The backfield looks more or less settled despite short-term injury woes. Starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire gave a scare when he sprained his ankle on August 20, but he’s back to limited work at practice, and his Week 1 status isn’t in doubt. Behind him, Darrel Williams has also returned in a limited capacity after last week’s concussion. Williams isn’t flashy, but he’s capable of manufacturing yardage as a rusher and receiver and closed the preseason as the listed No. 2. If Saturday’s game against the Vikings served as an audition for a further look, then Derrick Gore (106 scrimmage yards and one touchdown) and Jerick McKinnon made noise while Williams sat. Their performances may have spelled doom for Darwin Thompson’s roster hopes. Still, it’s important to note Gore faces an uphill battle to make the roster since he doesn’t contribute on special teams. Even if McKinnon sticks, Williams looks poised to command the backfield again should Edwards-Helaire go down.
Even with Sammy Watkins out of town, the depth chart is well stocked. “Death, taxes, and the Kansas City Chiefs having plenty of talent in the wide receiver room,” SI’s Jordan Foote quipped last week. Tyreek Hill is the main attraction, and he made a big mark while playing the first two drives against Minnesota. For his part, speedster Mecole Hardman was made a focal point in preseason play and acquitted himself well. Hardman was hastily subbed in for Hill against the Cardinals, and despite a few communication issues with quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, drew tepid praise from Reid. “He made some good plays, but he had a couple in there that weren’t so good. But he kept battling, which I thought was important. He’s playing fast and working hard.” That’s long been the story of Hardman, who boasts game-changing speed but may never evolve into an all-around receiver. Hardman is competing against Demarcus Robinson for snaps as the No. 2, but Robinson had a rough week, with special teams coach Dave Toub publicly calling him out for some punt-return gaffes. That doesn’t directly affect the wideout race, but it certainly doesn’t help Robinson’s all-around standing. It also doesn’t help his cause that No. 4 Byron Pringle has drawn praise all summer.
Few NFL players had less to prove in training camp than Travis Kelce. The only real question is how the No. 2 battle settles. Rookie Noah Gray enjoyed a fast start to camp and drew early praise from Kelce but has struggled with fundamentals since. He’s dropped his share of passes and was called for a block in the back against the Vikings. At the same time, Jody Fortson has made plays recently. Blake Bell looks poised to claim a roster spot as a blocking specialist, but Fortson’s breakout should prompt coach Andy Reid to keep four at the position.
Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo knows his defense has to rise to the occasion and keep pace with the offense’s elite standing. That’s why he’s prioritizing aggressiveness and takeaways so strongly and looking at ways to increase the pressure upfront. The biggest story thus far has been All-Pro tackle Chris Jones’ move to end, where he’ll focus more on terrorizing passers than on splitting his focus with inside runs. That will also put talented rushers like Jarran Reed and Tershawn Watson on the field more to stymie opposing lines. Behind them, young linebacker Willie Gay is rounding out his game and looks poised to lead the group in 2021. By all accounts, Gay is growing in pass defense and learning to make splash plays. Any snaps he can steal from plodding veteran Anthony Hitchens is a plus.
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub explained why Mecole Hardman, the top returner, hasn't been playing on special teams this preseason: "The thought process is that I know what Mecole can do. We’ve got to evaluate the guys that are down [the roster]. You can’t ever tell how many kick returns you’re going to get — so if you want to see a guy, you’d better put him in there." Hardman should resume his usual duties once the regular season gets underway.
Summary from Week 3 of Camp
Patrick Mahomes II surprisingly played the whole first quarter of Friday’s preseason game, taking a few in the process. Most of the punishment came when Mahomes moved out of the pocket to make plays with his feet. It’s encouraging the rebuilt offensive line did an effective job of keeping him and the other quarterbacks clean and sack-free. The Athletic’s Nate Taylor is thrilled with the play from the new personnel up front. Dominant pass protection will allow Mahomes and his speedy receivers to win downfield virtually with regularity. Chad Henne remains the clear-cut backup, and it’s unlikely the team will keep a third quarterback, though Shane Buechele has shown well enough to stick on the practice squad.
Starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire left Friday’s game with an ankle injury, but the team doesn’t seem concerned. Coach Andy Reid called it “a slight sprain” and specifically “not a high-ankle sprain,” which likely means days to evaluate rather than weeks. Edwards-Helaire is probably done for the preseason, but Week 1 shouldn’t be a concern. He’s excited to enter the season rested and “100%” after a dinged-up end to 2020. Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon appear to have the No. 2 and 3 jobs locked down, leaving a battle for scraps between Darwin Thompson and Derrick Gore. Thompson’s experience could be the deciding factor. The backfield as a whole was featured on Friday, as Reid wants all his running backs to be credible receiving threats. For his part, Edwards-Helaire has been utilized as a receiver often and from all over the formation.