KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs rookie wide receiver Chris Conley is hard to miss on the practice field during organized team activities, and the observation isn’t based solely on his 6-3, 205-pound frame.
Conley commands attention when he is snatching passes in traffic during team-related drills or has the opportunity to display his blazing 4.35 40-yard dash speed down the field.
The rookie, of course, is still learning the Chiefs’ offensive scheme and adjusting to quarterbacks Alex Smith and Chase Daniel.
But it certainly helps when Conley has Aaron Murray, a former teammate at Georgia, among the three quarterbacks throwing him the football.
“Chris is a big, strong kid,” assistant head coach/wide receivers coach David Culley said. “The thing we like about him physically, the tools are there. He’s had some familiarity, obviously with Aaron having been his quarterback for a couple of years. I think the sky is the limit for him.”
Conley finished his career at Georgia with 117 receptions for 1,938 yards, averaging 16.5 yards per catch, and 20 touchdowns.
Of that four-year total, 81 catches and 1,281 yards (15.8 yards per catch) and 12 touchdowns came in three seasons with Murray from 2011-13.
“It’s good, some fond memories,” Conley said of working with Murray again. “It’s an awesome opportunity to get some work in. We’re familiar with each other, he knows how I think and he’s been able to ease this transition and really help me learn a lot.”
Coach Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense has often been described as complex, which often softens the expectation level for a first-year player in the scheme.
But Conley, who was the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2014 and an honor roll student at Georgia, has the academic background to assist with absorbing the material.
“There’s a learning curve, but as you go on and as time increases, it ebbs,” Conley said. “You learn there are a lot of concepts, things that will cross over in this offense. As time goes on, you see a lot of similarities and it becomes something you’re used to.”
While Conley’s transition is helped by getting in work with Murray, he also receives steady mentorship from wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant.
He said both veterans often take the time to teach the Chiefs’ young wide receiver corps, which averages 25 years of age, how to run certain plays and what to look for.
A lot of the guidance occurs when the Chiefs line up for individual and team-related drills, and Conley credits Maclin and Avant for taking him under their wing.
Avant, in particular, is often in Conley’s ear.
“Jason is always that guy who’s always there because typically J-Mac is running something before me,” Conley said. “So while J-Mac is running, Jason is talking to me. In those times, I take the moments to listen to what he has to say because he has a wealth of knowledge.”
Conley offered a wide grin when pressed to elaborate what he was hearing from Avant, but everything he is told is done to help improve at the next level.
“Constructive criticism,” Conley said with a chuckle. “He’s always great about that and he’s always helping you. It’s never, ‘That was terrible.’ It’s always, ‘Hey, man. You might want to try this next time, you might want to work on this a little bit. After practice, let’s get this in.’ It’s always just small things, the little things that go together that make you a better player.”
In the meantime, there is little doubt Conley has looked good in OTAs and he is in good hands on and off the field with his teammates.
But Conley’s performances arrive with a caution to observers and even the coaching staff to temper overall enthusiasm.
The Chiefs have practiced in shorts and helmets the past two weeks, and will continue the ritual for the final set of OTAs on June 9-12 and the three-day mandatory minicamp on June 16-18 before reporting for training camp in late July.
So while Culley believes the “sky is the limit” for the team’s third-round pick, the wide receivers coach holds expectations within a realistic level.
“It’s too early and I’ll say this: I’ve never seen one yet make the team in shorts,” Culley said. “When you put the pads on, once we go to training camp, now you find out what’s what.”