Here’s what stood out at Chiefs’ camp on Monday Matt McMullen
The Kansas City Chiefs returned to the practice field on Monday following a day off on Sunday as training camp continued on the campus of Missouri Western State University. It was the fifth overall day of on-field activities and the last session before padded practices get underway on Tuesday.
In terms of who didn't take the field, linebacker Ben Niemann (hamstring), offensive tackle Mike Remmers (back spasms), tight end Nick Keizer (back), tailback Darwin Thompson (COVID protocols), defensive end Malik Herring (knee) and offensive lineman Kyle Long (leg) were among those who didn't practice. Safety Juan Thornhill (groin), wide receiver Chad Williams (groin) and tight end Evan Baylis (ankle) sustained injuries during the practice period.
Here are five observations from Monday's session.
1. The running game and blitz protection were areas of emphasis on Monday.
Much like Friday's practice session, the Chiefs dedicated a significant portion of Monday's practice to their rushing attack. That's worth noting because the on-field work that takes place during the offseason program (such as OTAs and minicamp) is largely devoted to the passing game due to practice limitations.
That meant plenty of work for the Chiefs' stable of tailbacks and the new-look offensive line in anticipation for Tuesday's practice, which will mark Kansas City's first padded practice since last season concluded. Only so much work can take place without the pads on - particularly when it comes to running the football - but the last few practices have provided a base of understanding that should come in handy on Tuesday and beyond.
Additionally, the Chiefs focused on blitz protection during a portion of Monday's session. In a similar sense to what was discussed above, it's certainly beneficial to work on the details of picking up a blitz - notably the communication involved - before doing it with the pads on later in camp.
Here's what Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy had to say following practice when asked what he's looking for from the offensive line once the padded practices begin on Tuesday:
"You want to see these guys communicate at all levels. On top of that, you want to see them line up and play hard together. You want to see them strain to finish," Bieniemy said. "One thing about an offensive line group, they all have to work on gelling and making sure that they're on the same page."
Communication is absolutely paramount, and that was a focus of Monday's practice in a variety of areas.
2. Travis Kelce made some plays.
Kelce - who left practice early last Thursday with tightness in his back and hips - was out there on Monday and looked like his normal, All-Pro self with numerous catches throughout the session.
His top play of the day took place during a 7-on-7 period, when quarterback Patrick Mahomes found Kelce deep down the field for a sizable gain near the sideline. It was the kind of play that Kelce makes look routine on game day, but following his injury last week, the reception was a very encouraging sight.
3. Willie Gay Jr. picked off a pass over the middle.
One of the storylines of camp added another chapter on Monday as Gay picked off Mahomes during a 7-on-7 period of practice. The second-year linebacker dropped to his left before sprinting back across the middle to his right and cutting off Mahomes' pass for the interception. The play showed off both Gay's speed and instincts, each of which have been on full display throughout training camp. The former second-round pick has seemed to make at least one impressive play in coverage every day as he continues to take on a larger role defensively.
Gay admitted last week that he wasn't fully comfortable in the Chiefs' defensive scheme until late in the season, which is understandable when considering that last year's rookie class didn't have the benefit of an in-person offseason workout program. He explained that the last several months - in addition to a full season in the defense - have done wonders for his confidence in the system, and it's showing in camp.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu appears to be impressed.
4. Speaking of young linebackers, Nick Bolton tallied a pick-six.
Injuries to fellow linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann have meant additional reps for Bolton over the last few days - providing the second-round pick with an increased opportunity to show what he can do - and he certainly made the most of it on Monday with an interception during a 7-on-7 period.
Tasked with covering rookie tight end Noah Gray on a short route toward the sideline, Bolton fully extended his arms to make an athletic catch and proceeded to run the ball all the way back for a touchdown.
It was an exciting play that demonstrated Bolton's tendency to always find the ball, which was something he became known for at the University of Missouri. Linebackers nowadays have to show an ability to cover, and only a few practices into Bolton's first professional training camp, he tallied himself an interception.
5. Marcus Kemp had another strong day.
Kemp put together a solid first week of camp and continued that trend on Monday with another impressive morning of practice. His most notable play took place during a 7-on-7 period, when quarterback Chad Henne targeted Kemp on an out-route near the sideline.
Kemp reached out to haul in the reception - using his length to make a very difficult catch look fairly easy - before getting his left foot down and tapping his right toe just barely inbounds to complete the play. He also later made a contested grab on a slant over the middle in traffic.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Kemp has spent parts of each of the last four seasons with Kansas City in some capacity, appearing in 27 games for the Chiefs since 2017. He took the field once in 2017 before seeing action in all 16 games the following year, carving out a role as a core contributor on special teams. In fact, Kemp's 299 special teams' plays that year ranked third on the team.
Kemp spent the 2019 campaign on Injured Reserve and then re-joined the active roster last season for 10 games, once again contributing as a key player on special teams (163 plays) while bouncing back and forth between the active roster and the practice squad.
He's one of the more experienced players in the wide receiver corps and is making a play for a roster spot with an impressive camp thus far.
The Chiefs kick off the first day of padded practices on Tuesday at 9:15 a.m. CT.