Day one of Chiefs training camp 2017 is in the books.
Like every first day of camp, there’s only so much you can really take away from a practice that consisted of tight end Travis Kelce serving as long snapper on punts and Patrick Mahomes II handing the ball off to fellow quarterback Alex Smith.
However, it does provide a good starting point to track player progression, evaluate team depth and gauge just how far younger players have to go before reaching their potential, come the regular season.
Quarterbacks are always the center of attention in training camp but this year the spotlight is brightened even more by the rookie Mahomes and fifth-year passer Tyler Bray. Fans want to see how the highly touted Mahomes looks, while the coaching staff has to make a call for who the team’s backup quarterback will be.
If there was any talk of a quarterback controversy at the starting position, as of now it’s pretty clear that Smith is still head and shoulders ahead of Mahomes and Bray. Not in arm talent, but in technical abilities.
Using footwork as an example, all three quarterbacks have above average rollouts to their right side. But when asked to shuffle back, turn away from pressure and make a throw across their body, Smith clearly has the proper footwork down to a much faster, smoother pace.
Mahomes had to start one shuffle drill over after performing the wrong footwork. However, the end result is all that matters at the end of the day, and Mahomes’ across his body throw is one that cannot be taught. Adding proper footwork to his game will only make Mahomes’ job easier and help him elevate to Smith’s level and beyond.
The timing on short, west coast routes was off too frequently throughout Mahomes’ day, but that was the case with every quarterback dealing with inexperienced wide receivers.
While fans will fall in love with Mahomes’ deep ball streaking down the center of the field or his lightning strike of an outside roll out slant, it’s his performance in the short game that is keeping him from the number two spot, and eventually the starting role.
Bray took all the second team snaps, with Mahomes at third, and while Bray was also fairly inaccurate, his comfort level in the offense and quickness out of the snap was apparent. If Smith were to go down during the 2017 season, the coaching staff would go to the player that runs the offense at the highest level and can execute the basic plays to perfection, not the player that has the most potential.
Comfortability with the team will be Mahomes’ biggest area that he must improve as camp progresses, as the Chiefs cannot afford for him to miss point blank passes or make incorrect reads. The moment he does master the offense, consistently makes accurate, correct reads and executes the west coast short game that Smith could perform in his sleep, that’s when a real controversy will begin.
The arm strength and pass speed will be on display at camp, and that’s important because it increases the quarterback’s and the offense’s margin for error. If Mahomes can get a ball to a spot half of a second quicker than Smith, that means the defender has less to time to react and make a play. That’s the main appeal for Mahomes, just a matter of executing technique and making the correct reads leading up to the throw.
Andy Reid spent most of his day working more with Mahomes than Smith, with the rookie also staying 10 minutes after the morning practice to get more repetition in.
Rookies Kareem Hunt and Jehu Chesson also participated in their first training camp practice, with Chesson showcasing solid route speed coming off the line of scrimmage. Hunt does not have the explosiveness off the snap like a Jamaal Charles but his ability to catch the ball on the move is similar and something the Chiefs will utilize often.
Derrick Johnson and Travis Kelce were full participants in camp, with Johnson coming off an Achilles injury suffered in December and Kelce following offseason shoulder surgery.
All remaining players are expected to report to camp on Thursday with the first full-team practice scheduled for Friday afternoon.
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