Chiefs Training Camp: 3 things to know from the first full team practice

Many moments signal the arrival of football season, and one of the best is the first trip in late July to Missouri Western State’s campus in St. Joseph, Missouri, where the Kansas City Chiefs are holding training camp.

An incredible number of fans had the chance to experience that on Sunday, when the team held its first full-team practice of the preseason. As fantastic a feeling as it is, it’s important that we don’t get too excited – and take also far away from the first practice among almost a month of work.

So I’ll keep it simple here and share three things that stood out to me when I watched the two-hour training.

Let’s start with one of the players I expected to see the most:

1. Richie James’ seamless fit in attack

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As the players warmed up for the official start of practice, starting wide receiver Kadarius Toney “tweaked” his knee while returning kicks, according to head coach Andy Reid. He wasn’t available for the starting offense all morning, which may have made room for free-agent signing Richie James to see more snaps.

With his option, James looked comfortable operating from the slot and as the exercise guy for the Chiefs’ offense — playing in a spot similar to what Toney has done for the team. I noticed at least two completions where James was hit on the fly, confidently caught the pass with outstretched hands and came upfield. One was a bullet from quarterback Patrick Mahomes that threaded the needle between defenders down the middle of the field.

Later in the live hold period, he caught another touchdown run in the red zone; he made two defenders miss with sudden jukes before going down. Toney may be uniquely flexible and explosive, but James may not be far off as a dynamic playmaker after the catch.

That’s why he was signed and considered a lock to make the roster by me. He was able to showcase that early in camp, but I’m curious to see what that might look like with Toney also available for the offense.

2. An initial opportunity for Justyn Ross

Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The wide receivers who rotated in while Mahomes took snaps were mostly the usual suspects: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore and Justin Watson saw plenty of time; rookie Rashee Rice also got good run alongside James.

The only other receiver I saw work in with that starting group was last year’s undrafted free-agent darling: Justyn Ross. He enters camp healthy and seemingly with an opportunity. As for my impressions of his game, he didn’t see many meaningful goals. He dropped a go route in the air during the early parts of practice, but returned to make several receptions during team drills; the ones I saw were simple curl routes where he turned upfield with good quickness for his size.

At one point in the seven-on-seven period, Mahomes’ progression was covered, so he ended up testing Ross deep, late in the game — but Ross got tangled up in the cornerback and couldn’t catch the long ball down the sideline.

He is a unique receiver that the Chiefs want to use on the perimeter and rarely as the typical slot player or “Z” receiver who goes in motion. The specific role on the outside can be filled by Valdes-Scantling and the rookie Rice, but the strength of the team’s receiving corps is not to beat the press coverage consistently and win down the field in physical coverage.

That’s the main reason Ross gets this shot, but I think second-year receiver Skyy Moore has the playmaking strength and reliable hands to develop into an asset in those scenarios as well. If Rice and Moore develop, that could negate the only value Ross brings to the offense — but that shouldn’t stop Ross from taking advantage of the opportunity he should get during the preseason.

3. Newcomers are not rushed into the defense

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The first time the starting defense gathered into a formation during practice, I noticed a theme: None of the first-team spots were occupied by a player acquired in the offseason.

The closest thing to a newcomer was the player who filled in for star defensive tackle Chris Jones while he’s holding out: Daniel Wise. The defensive lineman was signed to the team’s practice squad before the postseason started last year; he was waived by the Washington Commanders after playing in 11 games and earning just one tackle.

I believe this could change quickly, but it’s a sign that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wants the guys who know the system best to work in first, and the first-year players to earn Spags’ trust before earning a spot among the starters.

Free-agent signings Drue Tranquill and Mike Edwards worked primarily with the second-team unit, while defensive end Charles Omenihu saw most of his snaps come with them as well. Rookie first-round pick Felix Anudike-Uzomah was only with the third team, paired with fifth-round pick BJ Thompson on the other end. Rookie defensive tackle Keondre Coburn also only worked with the third team.

All of these players could become much bigger pieces to the unit than these observations suggest right now. You can chalk it up to Spagnuolo valuing familiarity to help teach the defensive scheme once the 2023 journey begins.

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