ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — The talk all offseason surrounding the Kansas City Chiefs has been the way general manager Brett Veach’s front office has surrounded young quarterback Patrick Mahomes II with the weapons to succeed.
They already had speedster Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. They brought in Kareem Hunt in last year’s draft and he led the league in rushing. This offseason, they spent lavishly to sign wide receiver Sammy Watkins to a three-year deal to provide another downfield threat.
However, Mahomes’ success probably will be dictated by the offensive line. The big guys whose job it is to protect Pat.
The Chiefs brought back their line from last season almost entirely intact, and that may not be a bad thing. They finished middle-of-the-pack when it came to protecting veteran quarterback Alex Smith and they bulldozed enough holes that Hunt ran for 1,327 yards and three touchdowns.
Yet the returns from their preseason opener last week were mixed — Mahomes took far too many shots in the short time he was in the game — and injuries could cripple an otherwise stable bunch.
“You see on the first play of the game, our quarterback got hit. As an offensive line that’s not acceptable to us,” offensive line coach Andy Heck said. “We know the importance of protecting the quarterback, particularly early in the game. So we’re busting our butts out here.”
As rough as things looked against the Texans, Heck said there were reasons to be optimistic. When the Chiefs gathered to review game film, an offensive front that’s played together for years knew exactly where they went awry.
“We definitely need a little sense of urgency with the one group,” center Mitch Morse said. “We did a few good things, but there’s some things we definitely need to work on. That’s with every game and every practice. This was just a glorified practice, which was tough. There’s definitely things you look back at and have to look at yourself in a difficult and critical manner.”
The time to correct things is quickly closing.
The Chiefs practiced Tuesday for the last time at Missouri Western, splashing through an early rain shower before packing up their training camp base. They will have a few days off before visiting the Falcons on Friday night, then get back to work at the practice facility in Kansas City.
The Chiefs hope by then their offensive line will be healthy.
The biggest piece presently missing is Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, their medical student-turned-right guard who graded out among the best in the league at his position last year. He’s been out of practice since sustaining a concussion, and it’s unclear when he’ll be cleared to return.
That means Andrew Wylie, an undrafted free agent who spent last year on three different practice squads, has been pressed into duty with the first team.
Wylie has earned some praise from new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who called him “a dirty, tough kid.” He showed that mean streak when he got into a fight this week in practice.
Wylie has been a pleasant surprise. So has Cameron Erving, a former first-round pick of the Browns who arrived in a trade last season. He spent the year as a backup, filling in wherever he was needed, but he beat out Parker Ehinger early in camp before locking to the left guard job.
The left tackles should be the strength of the offensive line. Eric Fisher on the left side is a former No. 1 overall pick who was good enough to earn a second contract, and Mitchell Schwartz was a big free-agent acquisition last year that held down the right side.
Throw in Morse, another draft pick of the Chiefs, and there should be no excuses for poor play. These guys either were drafted or signed big contracts to protect Mahomes in the pocket.
“We’ve been a young offensive line in the past. Right now, we’re one of the older and more experienced groups on this team,” Heck said. “We expect a lot out of those guys. We expect a lot out of ourselves in that area. We know that we’ve got to amp up the intensity, put the pressure on ourselves, raise that bar a little bit and keep working hard.”
Notes: SS Eric Berry (heel), RB Damien Williams (shoulder), OL Jimmy Murray (knee) and DE Allen Bailey didn’t participate in practice. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he’s being “cautious” with Berry, who is coming off a torn Achilles tendon. “Trying to be smart,” Reid said. “Eric’s been playing a long time.” … Missouri Gov. Mike Parson attended camp along with members of the military.