ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Midway through practice, a blur wearing a No. 17 jersey flashed open along the left sideline, streaking down the sideline by himself.
It was a blown coverage and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Chad Henne quickly identified it before lobbing a 60-yard touchdown to wide receiver Mecole Hardman Jr.
Loudest applause of the day for Mecole Hardman Jr. after he runs free down the left sideline and hauls in an easy TD from Henne.— Tod Palmer (@todpalmer) July 29, 2019
Widely viewed as Tyreek Hill insurance when he was drafted in the second round, one day after excerpts from a secretly recorded conversation between Hill and former fiancee Crystal Espinal made national headlines, Hardman becomes a luxury in an already loaded offense.
Reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes is expected to somehow get even better.
The Chiefs already have arguably the best tight end in the NFL in Travis Kelce and best deep threat in Hill.
“We are the home-run team,” fellow wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “We can throw deep. We’ve got all these track runners, all these thoroughbreds running. If we can match the short-yardage stuff and winning on our quick routes, I think we can possibly be unstoppable.”
Hardman’s greatest impact this season might be on special teams, where his instincts and elite speed make him dangerous in the return game even if his route-running and grasp of the offense may need time to develop.
But whether it was leaving defensive backs in his dust on crossing routes or running free down the sideline, Hardman showed that he has the potential to be a problem once he establishes himself in the NFL.
“He did a good job,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “On the opportunities that he had, I thought he played well. It’s important in this league that you do that every day. So, every day you try to get yourself a little bit better.”
Reid isn’t the only person beating that mantra in Hardman’s head.
“Every day he’s getting better, every day he’s competing, every day he’s focusing on the little things ...,” Watkins said. “I’m kind of hard on him, but I think that will help."
Not that Watkins is ready to relinquish his spot quite yet to the rookie second-round pick from Georgia.
Watkins said he did a better job listening to the trainers and doing the appropriate amount of work, rather than overworking or putting unnecessary wear and tear on his body.
He also worked with Hill’s receiving guru on getting in and out of breaks better, an area he feels he’s managed to improve significantly.
“He taught me how to stop,” Watkins said. “I’m a big guy. I run hard, fast and physical. You’ve got to learn how to control that speed.”
Watkins also is working on his leadership — and already feels a bit of pressure from Hardman nipping at his heels.
“It’s been uncomfortable, but I think good,” Watkins said of trying to establish himself as a leader this offseason. “... Mecole, that’s a guy that I’m trying to help out and other guys. It helps me be that leader. I can’t go out there and be talking to him, then go mess up.”
Almost injury report
On the very first play of 11-on-11 drills with the first-team offense squaring off versus the first-team defense in full pads for the first time in training camp, tight end Travis Kelce took a knock on his right ankle.
He had surgery on the left ankle during the offseason.
“He’s working through all that and you’re going to see that periodically,” Reid said. “But he’s all right. He worked through it. He got hit on it. That’ first time you get hit on it, you’re like — whoa! — but he bounced up and came back and everything was OK.”
WR Gehrig Dieter (back spasms), RB Marcus Marshall (groin strain), RT Mitchell Schwartz (back) and CB Keith Reaser left Monday’s practice with injuries.
Reid said Reaser may have torn an Achilles’ tendon, an injury that would almost certainly sideline him for the season.
A trio of players injured Sunday — S Jordan Lucas (hamstring), RB Damien Williams (hamstring) and CB Bashaud Breeland (lacerated thumb) — also missed practice Monday, but Reid said Breeland “will be back out here pretty quick.”
“I think we’re going to be OK,” Reid said when asked about the depth at cornerback. “He’s a good football player, though. If it is truly the Achilles’, we’ll miss him there. But we’ve got other guys that are working and we should be fine there.”