ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The sight of Chiefs rookie wide receiver Chris Conley wearing a baseball cap working with trainers on the sidelines has become routine at training camp.
The 6-3, 205-pound Conley, the first of two third-round picks, hasn’t been on the field since suffering a knee injury on July 29.
He has now missed eight total days of practice, which includes six straight days of full-team workouts and two days of rookie and quarterback workouts.
The lost time could be cause for concern, especially for a rookie in coach Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense, which is regarded as complex.
That anxiety, however, may not apply to the 2014 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
“Working with Chris Conley, he’s a very smart individual, he’s a very smart football player,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said Friday. “He really knows our system well already. He’s getting mental reps – I challenged him here and there – just talking to him on the sideline.”
Quarterback Alex Smith agreed with Pederson on Conley’s intelligence, but he raised a legitimate point.
“It’s one thing to be able to know what you’re doing standing on the sidelines or know what you’re doing in the film room,” Smith said. “It’s another thing stepping in the huddle, walking up and knowing the different kinds of leverages, all the looks, all those little things, releases. There’s a lot that goes in out there. Those guys have to know the intricacies of running the route that’s not just a line on the paper, so to speak.”
The Chiefs don’t allow injured player to talk to the media.
But Conley spoke to reporters when rookies reported to camp on July 28, and indicated a comfort level in the playbook and offense
“I feel really good right now,” Conley said then. “The beautiful thing about camp is that it’s another install. When you go through OTAs, when you go through rookie minicamp, you install twice, sometimes three times. For camp, for many of us, it’s going to be our third or fourth install. Going into this install, it’s about reinforcing those ideas, reinforcing those concepts and going out there and playing better.”
An injury can arguably stall on-field progress despite mental repetitions when considering a player can’t apply what has been taught.
The Chiefs, however, have other bodies of work to consider outside of Conley’s ability to absorb information.
Conley said on July 28 he worked out with former Georgia teammate and current Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray during the month-long break between mandatory minicamp and training camp.
That training, which consisted of catching passes from Murray and running the routes expected of him in the offense, offered an advantage to staying on top of understanding the scheme.
“Just constant reinforcement of this offense,” Conley said then. “Much like in days past when we were at Georgia, we can constantly work on the playbook, we can constantly work on the routes that are going to be run here. I can constantly tweak the little things. And that is what is so important in this league, that’s what makes this team different – the little things.”
Conley looked good during OTAs and mandatory minicamp, running fluid routes and making catches in traffic while working out in shorts and helmet.
He and Smith also appeared on the same page with timing, and optimism for building on that rapport remains intact.
“I feel like he got great work in the OTAs,” Smith said. “I thought he really did a lot of good things. It’s a matter of just getting him back out and getting going, and rebuilding off that. For a lot of guys, it is scheme-by-scheme, play-by-play deal. Some things make sense to guys and they’re easier to read than others. It’s a matter of working through all that.”
In the meantime, it remains unclear how long it will take for Conley to eventually join teammates on the practice field.
But the Chiefs aren’t in a hurry to get the rookie wideout on the field unitl he is ready.
“Obviously, you can’t take away the live rep of a play and that just goes without saying,” Pederson said. “We’re not going to rush him. Our medical team is going to make sure he’s 100 percent before we put him back out on the field.”