OTA Notebook: Energized Watkins hitting his stride in Chiefs’ offense

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Picking up Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense can pose a challenge for newcomers to the system but so far wide receiver Sammy Watkins looks as though he’s been a part of the system for years.

“You can come in and be yourself,” Watkins said about the environment created by his new teammates and coaches. “This is definitely a family atmosphere on and off the field. We can joke around and have fun, and it’s been great for me.”

Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins takes part in warmup drills before practice at the team’s training complex in Kansas City, Mo., on May 31, 2018. (Photo by Matt Derrick, ChiefsDigest.com)

That comfort shows on the practice field as Watkins continues building chemistry with quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The young passer shows no qualms about throwing the ball to Watkins at any time, whether it’s deep down field or in traffic over the middle.

This year marks the first full offseason with no injury issues of Watkins’ five-year career. Even with changing teams and picking up a new playbook, he feels more comfortable than ever heading into training camp.

“I’ve been my best this year with just getting in shape and learning the offense,” Watkins said. “I just can’t wait until I fully get engaged into the plays and get in shape.”

Watkins admits immersing himself in the playbook is a challenge but it’s one he relishes.

“But I think that’s what gets me up every day to study the plays and come out here encouraged because anybody can get the ball,” Watkins said. “I have to learn all the positions, I can’t just learn one position.”

Reid’s penchant for moving his receivers around the feel appeals to Watkins so far, even if it poses a mental and physical strain during this time of the season.

“Of course you got to be in shape to do those kinds of things,” Watkins said. “I just feel like you get more opportunities on linebackers, safeties.”

For as comfortable as Watkins looks on the field right now, he still feels there is much work to be done in building his connection with Mahomes.

“We’re definitely not hitting on all cylinders,” Watkins said. “But I just think the more we practice, the more we go over things and watch film, we’ll just get better.”

On the sidelines

Nine Chiefs in total did not take part in practice Thursday including wide receiver Tyreek Hill, whom Reid said suffered a minor ankle injury this week.

“Just twisted his ankle a bit, held him out,” Reid said.

Running back Kareem Hunt (hamstring) also remained on the sideline along with rookie wide receiver Byron Pringle (calf). The club also backed off the workload of wide receiver Chris Conley, who is returning from a torn Achilles suffered last season.

“He was doing so much and we just want to get him through this whole thing healthy,” Reid said. “He’s actually had a really good camp.”

Center Mitch Morse (foot) and wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas (leg) remained out of practice as they continue rehabilitation from surgery. Linebacker Terrance Smith watched from the sidelines but the team did not specify an injury.

Good news on the injury front comes from running back Spencer Ware, who returned to individual drills this week. He did not take part in team drills but Reid believes Ware should be ready for more work during training camp.

“He’s champing at the bit, man,” Reid said. “This drives him crazy. You know how he’s wired. He wants to do everything, every snap. He’s got to make sure he’s all right. We get him to training camp and we’ll be good.”

Safety Eric Berry and linebacker Justin Houston did not attend the voluntary workout Thursday.

Passing report

The Chiefs spent much of Thursday working on late-game scoring positions needing a touchdown with less than a minute on the clock.

Mahomes started a bit shaky, completing just 1-of-5 passes during the first seven-on-seven drills. One ball slipped out of his hands and hit the ground a few feet in front of him and defensive backs Steven Nelson and Leon McQuay broke up two other passes.

But Mahomes rallied during the remainder of practice, unofficially completing 4-of-5 during another seven-on-seven drill and 10-of-17 during full team drills.

“I think we’re progressing really well,” Mahomes said. “Just from the first OTA until now I feel like guys are starting to get on the same page. We’re able to adjust routes and I’m throwing the before because I know that we’re on the same page.”

Reid said Mahomes continues handling the increased workload the coaching staff continues sending his way.

“Every day he’s just a little bit more comfortable with what we’re doing,” Reid said. “We’re loading him and he’s handling it. He’s spent a lot of time away from here working on it, and you can see that with the results when he comes out there.”

Backup Chad Henne unofficially clocked in at 13-of-22 passing with a big chunk of his workload on scout team and late-game settings. Chase Litton finished 2-of-4 passing while scrambling for two touchdowns. Matt McGloin received additional reps working with the second and third teams in seven-on-seven drills, unofficially finishing at 10-of-14 passing.

Sophomore receivers

With Hill and Conley taking time off on Thursday, second-year receivers Gehrig Dieter, Marcus Kemp and Jehu Chesson had increased opportunities to showcase their development within the offense.

Kemp and Dieter both made big catches for touchdowns during Thursdays’ practice. Mahomes said he feels extremely close to his second-year receivers with whom he worked with extensively as rookies on the scout team.

“Those guys have worked extremely hard,” Mahomes said. “They’ve taken huge strides and I feel like I’m trying to go with them.”

Watkins even described how he learned much about the team’s offensive and offensive philosophy from his younger teammates. He said he spent a week on the sideline watching how the trio ran through drills and workouts.

“That’s what helped me when I came in,” Watkins said, “just with the route running and how they want you to run routes and their work ethic with finishing, catching the ball, blocking, stuff like that.”

Reid is happy with the development of his young receivers but admits he can’t make full evaluations until training camp. That’s when the trio must make catches with full contact and prove they can execute in live games.

“They’re making progress,” Reid said. “Again, let’s get through training camp. There’s an element of this that’s missing. You’ve got to get up there and get through that.”

News and notes

The Chiefs traditionally spent a week during OTAs focusing on AFC West opponents, and Thursday concluded their work inside the division with the Denver Broncos. Reid said the team will finish Friday with another common opponent. … The catch of the day belong to Marcus Kemp, who hauled in a laser from Mahomes sliding along the back of the end zone. … Tremon Smith, Kerwynn Williams and Daniel Braverman continued working on punt return duties while Gehrig Dieter joined Smith on kick return drills. The competition for the returner positions will take greater significance once the the team starts training camp next month.

Quotes of the day

“For me, I like to throw it hard and those guys make the catches and we’ve got guys who are great receivers who can catch the ball.”
– Patrick Mahomes on learning to throw the ball with a softer touch at times

“I have visited with him. I’m not even going to go there. We’ve talked about and we’ll just see how things work out.”
– Andy Reid on the second offseason alleged physical altercation involving running back Kareem Hunt

“I think just with the people I have kind of in my group and just with the Chiefs and everybody, we kind of made that decision. With me, I wanted to just go in and grind and just work. Those things come. I’m more about playing football and just trying to go out here and win games.”
– Mahomes on declining some local endorsement deals during his rookie season

“He’s a plastic surgeon. I joked that he gave me a tummy tuck about a year ago. No, he really didn’t. I know you couldn’t tell.”
– Reid on his fondness and recent fundraising support for Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer

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Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.

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