Tuesday marked the beginning of mandatory minicamp for the Kansas City Chiefs, and for a lot of Chiefs players, the first practice is as much about knocking the rust off their cleats as anything else.
“I’m just trying to get back in the swing of things — try to get back to full speed… but it’s coming along,” said wide receiver Mecole Hardman from the podium after practice.
It wasn’t pretty out of the gate for Hardman — he dropped a few passes to start the workout, including two targets back to back.
“You want to be perfect when you get out there,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you get frustrated with yourself, knowing that you could be better. I definitely can be better than that.”
But like many things in life, it’s not how you start but how you finish, and Hardman fought back and finished the practice strong, catching everything else that came his way.
The veteran in the room
The NFL purposely schedules mandatory minicamp smack dab in the middle of the offseason. It gives the coaches and front office personnel a chance to get the whole team together and assess where they stand. It’s an opportunity for new players to learn the playbook, and for veterans to step up as leaders in the clubhouse.
Being a leader is something the Chiefs have never asked Mecole Hardman to do prior to right now. Last season, Tyreek Hill, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson and Marcus Kemp had all been on the team as long or longer than Hardman. He could blend in as a role player who did his best to step up when his number was called. But this year, despite there being longer-tenured NFL players on the team, nobody in the wide receiver room has worn the red and gold for as long as Hardman.
“Wow, I’m the vet? That’s crazy!” joked Hardman. “Yeah, I think it’s going to be natural for me to be more vocal with the younger guys — even with the older guys like [Marquez Valdes-Scantling] other [JuJu Smith-Schuster]… I’m more familiar with everything going around here, and I know what the coaches are looking for… I will be more vocal for sure this season.”
Being more vocal may seem like an easy thing to do, but when you are talking to guys like Josh Gordon and Smith-Schuster, who have had success in the league, it can be intimidating. But Hardman doesn’t think it will be an issue for him.
“They’ve been playing this league long enough so they know what to do,” Hardman explained. “I really ain’t got to hold their hand. I just tell them, ‘Let’s play ball. We need to do this — let’s learn the plays, and let’s learn from each other. We can build this chemistry together — build the bond that we need. So that when we get to game day, we know what we’re capable of, and we can depend on each other.”
the new Chief’s offense
As the last member of the Legion of Zoom on the team, Hardman was asked to reflect on what identity this new iteration of the Chiefs’ wide receiving corps would look like?
“I think we’re still developing our personality — still trying to figure it out as we go,” he said. “We’re going to develop that when we get to training camp. When we get to training camp, ask me that again.”
Whatever their identity, Hardman doesn’t anticipate the Chiefs will miss a beat when it comes to the explosive nature of their offense. Hardman was quick to remind everyone that a considerable part of the team’s success has to do with who’s lining up under center.
As long as Patrick Mahomes is the one spinning the rock, he’s not concerned with whether they will be successful or not.
“I think we’re going to be a great offense,” declared Hardman. “We still got the best quarterback in the NFL, best tight end in the NFL. We’re going to lean on those guys. We’re going to depend on them. We know they’re going to come to play every Sunday. “
Sure the 2022 Chiefs offense may not live off of the deep shot like in seasons past, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. This is partly due to the quality of the Chiefs’ coaching staff and their ability to draw up plays that enhances each receiver’s natural ability.
“The coaching staff are going to call up plays that best suit each player,” said Hardman. “MVS is a long guy — he can go up and get the ball, and he can take the top off [of the defense], so you kind of going to see some of those routes from him. Juju is a bigger, physical, receiver. You’re going to see a lot of the intermediate short game with him.
“As for me, I’m a deep threat as well. So you’re going to see a lot of deep passes— and then some plays they give me the ball fast and just [let me] work. So I think it’s going to be kind of similar thing that we’ve been doing in the past.”
The outlook without Hill
A big part of the past that Hardman is talking about was Tyreek Hill’s contributions to the offense. Hardman hasn’t known a day until now, where Hills wasn’t the No. 1 wide receiver on this offense. He said that he learned a lot from Hill while he was in Kansas City.
“Tyreek is one of the hardest workers I know, on and off the field… I’m taking that same mentality.”
Hardman knows that in order to be the player he wants to be and fill the void left behind by Hill, he needs to improve as a receiver and show his abilities on the field.
“I need to step up and be a better overall player than I’ve been the last past three years,” he said. “I don’t feel no pressure. I think it’s just more so me taking the initiative to be better than I have been — from blocking to releases, to catching the ball, to getting open— just everything, all of the above.”
Hardman is a free agent at the end of the season, and, as they say, the contract year is undefeated. If he has a big year, he could be in for a healthy payday come next offseason.
“They definitely set a market,” he admitted.
But Hardman says he’s trying not to get too far ahead of himself. He’s focused on just being the best player he can be.
“I think if you think about that too early, it doesn’t usually pan out for you too well. Overall, you just want to take it one day at a time.”