Yesterday the Chiefs wrapped up their first of three OTA gatherings, and by all accounts it was a raging success. As much as no contact football drills can be considered a precursor to a season that is all about contact, the previous three days gives us reason for excitement.
Maybe it’s because we have now passed the halfway point of the offseason, and it was just good to see the gang back together, even in shorts. Although more probably, it’s that Patrick Mahomes is now a known quantity, and it’s hard to not to believe that with him under center anything is possible.
Just watching him throw the football gets a fan’s heart racing.
Mahomes, however, is a known. And thanks to last season it’s also known that he can’t do it himself – although it’s close. So what are our first impressions of the unknowns heading into 2019?
The Chiefs were forced to make adjustments away from Kareem Hunt the final month of last season, and they think they found a gem in Damien Williams. That’s why he landed a new contract before the end of 2018. But Darrel Williams is back, the team signed free agent Carlos Hyde, and there is much anticipation around rookies Darwin Thompson and James Williams.
Can the cream of this crop rise up to fill Hunt’s shoes for entire season? The early signs point to: Yes.
Damien Williams continues to look like a legitimate three-down back. The rookies are all great pass catchers and hard runners, and simply need to figure out the difference between college speed and NFL speed. And Hyde showed up to OTAs looking ripped. If ever there was a guy ready to take on the turf between the tackles and inside the 5-yard line, this is it.
Because of the ongoing investigation into allegations regarding Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs wide receiving corps is in flux. Just this week NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league will not hand down any judgements on Hill while the state of Kansas is still looking into the matter. So in terms of Hill’s availability in the fall, clarity remains elusive.
For the Chiefs this makes Sammie Watkins doubly important. Which is why how he looked the last three days is doubly pleasing.
Fully healthy – something he credits the Chiefs training staff for achieving – Watkins looks to be in another gear this season. And not only is he faster, with a year in KC under his belt, he and Mahomes have found greater rhythm. If Watkins can stay healthy – and that is a bit of an if – even without Hill, this offense won’t slow down.
A lot of that is credit to Watkins. He looks the part of a reborn #1 wide receiver. But a lot of that also goes to rookie Mecole Hardman’s intelligence and hard work on picking up this offense, as well as Demarcus Robinson beginning a prove-it year for him.
If Robinson can emerge as even just an average #2, with Hardman fulfilling a speed roll at #3, this wide receiving corps will be good. And if Hill is available for even part of the season, it could be great.
There will be no less than seven new starters on defense when the season starts in 2019. Add in a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme, and you can completely throw away the 2018 Chiefs defense. Everything is so different that last year’s team means nothing in regards to how this season will go.
The defensive line looks stout, and with Chris Jones absent from OTAs, Frank Clark is emerging as a leader. This line is unlikely to provide as many sacks as last season, but there is no question that it’s improved, and that improvement starts with what Clark brings with him from Seattle.
I take full pride in having an aggressive defense, I take full pride in being one of the best defenders, and I take full pride in having the best defense in the league. I feel like those are the things we have to live up to. Those are the standards we have to continue to climb toward.Frank Clark – #55
Pass coverage, however, was the real achilles heel for Kansas City last season. Of the 30 TD passes they allowed in 2018, half of those came against the safeties and linebackers.
Yes, Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens will both be prominent members of this year’s linebacking corps and they were abysmal last year. But putting Hitch into a more natural roll for him, and with less pass coverage, should solve many of those problems. The other solution comes in the speed and coverage ability of newly acquired linebacker Darron Lee.
Lee may have underachieved in New York following his 1st round selection, but even still, Pro Football Focus rated him the #3 linebacker last season against the pass. In OTAs this week he looked sharp, focused, and thrilled to be in Kansas City. And since everyone on the team is learning a new defense, he’s not behind.
Of course the real difference in this team is at the back of the secondary. As much as Daniel Sorensen has given his heart and soul to the Chiefs, the defense is better when he’s not starting. So it was so good to see the tandem of Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill on the field together.
We all know what Mathieu can do. And on the field he too is emerging as a leader, helping to fill the locker room void created by the departures of Eric Berry and Justin Houston. And if you were to put money down on the Chiefs rookie most likely to get an opening Sunday start, it’s Thornhill. The rookie out of Virginia is athletic, shows he has a nose for the football, and is eager to learn under the tutelage of Mathieu.
The Chiefs are back on the field this coming Tuesday, May 28th, for another three days of OTAs, and we’ll have more reports.