KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Rookie minicamp, in essence, is the first look. The Chiefs began their annual three-day event on Saturday, as 74 players participated in the first padless practice, including the 10 players the team selected last month in the NFL Draft.
Once Sunday’s training was over, one revelation stood out more than any other: worthwhile rehearsals were rare, especially since many players were having their first experiences in a professional setting.
The upside for head coach Andy Reid and his assistants is that the first look at Chiefs rookies was always instructive. Trent McDuffie, the team’s top draft pick, was the Chiefs’ top cornerback. Sometimes the best reps were when two draft picks were matched against each other. Reid could tell that some players learned the first part of the playbook and team terminology faster than others.
Ahead of the Chiefs’ voluntary practice that includes veterans, which begins May 24, here are four takeaways from the first two days of the team’s rookie minicamp:
Karlaftis shines several skills
The biggest winner in Saturday’s practice was defensive end George Karlaftis, who the Chiefs selected with the 30th pick. A three-year starter at Purdue, Karlaftis was best known for his impressive strength and bull rush that led to his success as a passing thrower.
The night Karlaftis joined the Chiefs, he acknowledged his enthusiasm for playing alongside defensive end Frank Clark and star defensive tackle Chris Jones, veterans who should occasionally attract two offensive linemen. Such opportunities should allow Karlaftis to have a number of one-on-one encounters against an opposition tackle during his rookie season.
“You want to have guys playing next to you who are really, really good players,” Karlaftis said of Clark and Jones on Saturday. “Obviously they are great players and that just means more success for me and for the whole unit. It was annoying to have doubles all the time (in middle school). It will be a nice change now that I’m on the pitch not to see that attention.
In both practices, the Chiefs allowed Karlaftis to have such individual opportunities. He used his speed and tenacity over multiple reps to beat tackle Greg Long, his former teammate at Purdue, to generate pressure on quarterback Anthony Gordon.
All smiles here 😁 pic.twitter.com/cmeGapuM8K
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) May 7, 2022
Ahead of practice on Saturday, Karlaftis said he had improved as a passing thrower by watching the techniques of veteran stars such as Khalil Mack, Ryan Kerrigan and brothers Joey and Nick Bosa. Some of Karlaftis’ best reps came when he used a back-and-forth motion against tackle Darian Kinnard, who the Chiefs selected in the fifth round. Karlaftis earned what would have been two sacks during the team period in practice on Sunday.
“I think we’re making ourselves better,” Kinnard said of Karlaftis on Sunday. “He’s doing a great job and he’s a good character guy.”
Kinnard wants to reward Chiefs’ faith
Several teams told Kinnard they anticipated his NFL career would begin with his transition to one of the guard positions. Kinnard told those teams he would be willing to make such a switch, but he hoped to remain a right tackle since he had been a starter for three years at Kentucky.
The Chiefs were not one of those teams. In fact, Kinnard didn’t have many conversations with the Chiefs before the team picked him in the draft. The surprise was made even better for Kinnard when Reid and general manager Brett Veach told him he would learn the correct tackle position in their playbook throughout his rookie season.
“It’s kind of cool that coming in they see me at the tackle,” Kinnard said. “It’s quite reassuring to be able to play tackle, a position I’m comfortable with.”
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 345 pounds, Kinnard is the tallest offensive lineman in camp. His matchup with Karlaftis, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, was the most intriguing among the action at the line of scrimmage. Once Kinnard adapted to Karlaftis’ top speed, he was able to gain a better rep percentage. When Karlaftis adjusted, using his inner movement, Kinnard then made his adjustment.
The Chiefs also asked Kinnard to do a number of reps at left tackle to assess his versatility, although it wasn’t against Karlaftis.
“When you’re out there with no pads and going right to left, you really have to focus on the details,” Kinnard said of his assignments. “It’s like going, in basketball, from right-handed shooting to left-handed shooting – or vice versa. It’s a different feeling, and the smallest details make a huge difference.
Kinnard, in both workouts, was able to show off his strong combination of footwork and strength. He is expected to be in a battle with five-year veteran Andrew Wylie for the starting right tackle role. Wylie is the favorite considering he played well last season. But Kinnard knows earning the starting job is a strong possibility after center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith accomplished the feat as rookies last season.
“It gives me a lot of motivation,” Kinnard said of Humphrey and Smith. “It’s going to be a lot of hard work and busting my ass to get there. I have to be smart. I have to compete for a job, then I can continue to carry that chip on my shoulder against other teams.
Prepare for impact 💥 pic.twitter.com/fd8pr0xNKt
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) May 8, 2022
After minicamp, Kinnard said one of her plans was to change the color of her long blue and black hair. While in Kentucky, Kinnard dyed part of her hair blue, the school’s main color. As a member of the Chiefs, Kinnard knows he can’t keep some of his blue hair.
“Oh, I will,” Kinnard said, dying some of his red hair with a smile. “That’s the game plan. Right now, my biggest goal is to get better at my job. It will eventually turn red. Just know that.
McDuffie looks the part
The two quarterbacks of the camp, Gordon and Dustin Crum, didn’t really test McDuffie during the seven-on-seven or team periods. McDuffie started Saturday practice on the perimeter before having reps as a nickel cornerback.
One of McDuffie’s main goals was to be a leader and bond with his new teammates, as seven of the 10 players selected in the draft were defensemen.
“Just bypassing them, creating some of that bond so we can go out there and show those veterans that this rookie class is here to prove a point and here to help the team win,” said he said on Saturday.
Midway through the team period on Sunday, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo spent several minutes coaching McDuffie in his assignments and techniques. McDuffie said he spent a lot of time before the draft trying to improve his footwork to better get out of his breaks and change direction in hopes of producing interceptions and passing breakups as a rookie .
He had reps at all three cornerback positions. His highlight on Sunday was executing a blitz that got him unstuck for an easy path to Gordon.
“You know Tyrann Mathieu,” McDuffie told reporters on Saturday, when he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, which is similar to Mathieu’s height (5-foot-9, 190 pounds). “Not a very big guy, but (he) makes plays. It’s something that I go into the field every day, just knowing that I want to be that guy that I call the “spark guy”, the guy that you always see flashing on the screen here and there and just a total effort. It’s something I’m going to put on tape.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) May 8, 2022
Watson’s Mother’s Day Special
Before practice on Sunday, cornerback Jaylen Watson, who the Chiefs selected in the seventh round, celebrated Mother’s Day by thanking his mother.
“My mom has always been so supportive of me,” Watson said. “I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in my life. Whether I want to be an actor or a rapper or whatever, she’s always been there to support me. She’s like my super wife.
Watson, who began his college career at Ventura Community College, said he needed his mother’s encouragement the most in 2019 when he had to return to his hometown of Augusta, Georgia, after not spending time. be academically qualified to play at USC.
“I just couldn’t sit at home and watch my mom work, so I tried to look for a job,” he said. “I couldn’t find any. She was the manager of a Wendy’s, so I ended up working with her.
The experience humbled Watson, who earned six A’s that year to receive his associate’s degree in the summer of 2020. He also learned that working with his mother was not the ideal situation.
“I love him to death, but it was terrible,” Watson said with a smile. “It’s so bad. You don’t get any breaks with your mom – you go to work, you’re with your mom, you come home, you’re with your mom. You can’t even talk about work. C was just bad, but I still love it.
Start running full speed down the street🤣 https://t.co/aKPfNxmJoh
– Wat Island🏝 (@JaylenWatson12) May 3, 2022
Watson ended his career in Washington State, his campus about 2,700 miles from Augusta. Watson generated 44 tackles, seven breakups, two interceptions and one forced fumble in 15 games with the Cougars. Greg Castillo, the Chiefs’ college scouting coordinator, said Watson, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds, has demonstrated improved press coverage while approaching the sport with greater appreciation.
“When you talk about being humble and having a different perspective, that’s what this guy has,” Castillo said of Watson. “He comes in and fits in perfectly. He’s a guy of size, weight and speed in this position, which is a top position.
Watson wanted to be selected by the Chiefs after meeting Spagnuolo and assistant defensive back Dave Merritt last month during his pre-draft visit with the team. The Chiefs, however, selected two cornerbacks, McDuffie and Joshua Williams, before the start of the seventh round. Back in Augusta, Watson thought his career would start with another team, but he was stunned when the Chiefs called him while he was in his car. When he returned to his childhood home, Watson was overjoyed as he hugged his mother to tell her the exciting news.
“It’s super special,” Watson said of this year’s Mother’s Day as a professional. “I’m just happy that I was able to make my mother proud.”
(Photo: Kirby Lee/USA Today)