ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith drops back in the pocket, planting his back leg and squaring his shoulders to take a shot down the field, and everyone knows exactly the intended destination of his throw.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill starts his break toward the corner as the ball soars through the air. His eyes scan for the ball while spectators focus their vision on him.
Hill already beat cornerback Steven Nelson and safety Eric Murray stands next. The gap between Hill and the defenders widens as the ball drops into his hands on the dead run.
Smith-to-Hill ranks as the most common sight at Chiefs training camp and it’s a combination the team hopes to ride during the coming season. The 33-year-old quarterback and the 23-year-old receiver have found chemistry on the football at Missouri State Western University.
Some might scoff at the idea that Smith, sometimes maligned as a game-managing quarterback who relies too much on short passes, can successful partner with a speedster such as Hill on the deep ball.
“People tend to down Alex because he can’t throw a ball down the field but we see it every day in practice,” Hill said. “I can’t wait and I am excited to see how the season unfolds.”
Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said Smith increasingly understands Hill’s speed and timing.
“Once you get that tempo down, especially on a lot of the go balls and the deep routes, knowing there is some air time there and you can put that ball up and he is going to go get it,” Nagy said. “It has been impressive and Alex has done a great job with it.”
Head coach Andy Reid said that timing remains the key for Smith and Hill putting on a show this season.
“It is one thing when he goes out and does it, but it is another thing for the quarterback to anticipate and throw it to him on time so the defense can’t react to it,” Reid said.
As easy as Hill makes football seem during the first two weeks of training camp, his year in the NFL offered its challenges.
Many fans reacted negatively to club selecting Hill in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL draft. Hill pleaded guilty to a domestic battery charge in August 2015 and received three years probation. The incident led to his dismissal from the Oklahoma State football team.
Hill piled up the accolades during his rookie year, including three AFC player of the week awards as well All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, but continually faced questions about his past.
This year the focus falls on his performance. Most Chiefs fans appear to have made their peace with his history, and Hill stands poised to serve as the focal point of the team’s offense.
The NFL caught a glimpse at Hill’s emerging talent last season. The rookie initially found a role on special teams as a kick returner and a blazing gunner on punts.
An injury to Jeremy Maclin thrust Hill into an expanded role on offense earlier than anticipated but the young speedster found himself catching up quickly.
Hill finished fourth in the NFL in all-purpose yards last season, catching 61 passes for 593 yards and six touchdowns. He added 24 rushes for 267 and three scores. Hill led the league in punt return yards and returned three total kicks for touchdowns.
It sounds hard to believe, but Hill looks to expand his portfolio in 2017.
Reid calls the plays and he increasingly finds unique ways to feed Hill the ball both through the air and on the ground. It seems no spot on the field is off limits for where Hill may line up before the snap.
Hill often lines up across from All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters, yet still routinely makes tough catches both stretching the field and in tight coverage. Reid said the competition helps both players.
“You have two good players, so they challenge each other,” Reid said. “Both of them are competitive guys. That’s what it’s all about.”
Even defensive coordinator Bob Sutton finds it difficult countering Hill on the practice field.
“You better not get out there where you are doing much tackling by yourself,” Sutton said. “You need a lot of people there.”
Hill for his part plays with the same reckless abandon that marked his rookie season. He does not know any other way to play the game.
“I’m going to come out here and play like I am on the edge of getting cut,” Hill said. “‘Cause you never know.”
It took an unseasonably chilly morning, a steady rain and a brisk north wind to knock Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos from the ranks of perfection. He finally missed a kick after converting nearly 30 straight chances opening the team’s training camp.
“We put him into the wind and with a rainy, cold day, he missed one today, so we know he’s human now,” special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “I’d rather have him miss one now than during the season.”
Santos quietly put together one of the best seasons for a kicker in franchise history last year, finishing with 31 field goals and converting on 89 percent of his chances. He also earned the AFC’s special teams play of the month award in November after converting 11-of-11 field goal tries and booting two-game winning kicks.
Kansas City’s De’Anthony Thomas finds himself in a spirited competition among the Chiefs wide receiver group, but the fleet-footed speedster holds an advantage thanks to his special teams skills.
“He plays like a 200-pounder,” special teams coordinator Dave Toub said of the 5-8, 176-pound Thomas. “He is not afraid to stick his head in there on kickoff and make tackles. He is real tough as a gunner.”
Thomas appreciates hearing Toub’s words rewarding the versatility he strives to deliver.
“They’re seeing what I bring to the table, what I bring to the Chiefs,” Thomas said. “Just how I’m trying to contribute whether its offense or special teams, wherever they need me to go.”
The former Oregon running back immediately gained notice as a rookie, collecting 1,102 all-purpose yards and averaging 11.9 yard per punt return with a touchdown return. He also averaged more than 30 yards per kickoff return.
Defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon on joins Kansas City’s growing list of injuries along the defensive line. The rookie missed practice Tuesday with shin splints, according to head coach Andy Reid said.
Kpassagnon’s injury is the latest hit to the team’s defensive line depth. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan has not practiced since Saturday with a knee injury. Chris Jones remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and will not play Friday.
The Chiefs signed free agent Roy Miller on Aug. 2. He continues limited participation in practice as he returns from an Achilles tear sustained last October.
Kansas City added undrafted rookie free agent Maurice Swain for depth this week.
The injuries leave the Chiefs with seven healthy defensive linemen for Friday’s preseason game. That group includes David King, who missed two recent practices because of an ankle injury.
Corner back De’Vante Bausby did not practice following an ankle injury on Monday. Cornerback Jacoby Glenn sustained a concussion on Monday and will not play Friday night.
Linebackers Tamba Hali and Dadi Nicolas and offensive lineman Parker Ehinger remain on the PUP list and will not play Friday.
The Chiefs bring four quarterbacks into their preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers on Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium. Head coach Andy Reid expects each quarterback to play roughly one quarter.
Alex Smith will start the game, with Tyler Bray, Patrick Mahomes and Joel Stave following. The starters and backups likely take their cues from the quarterback rotation, Reid indicated.
“That is how we are rolling right now and then the rest of the guys just kind of follow,” Reid said.
The quarterback rotation might be juggled a bit, given Reid’s history. Smith and the first team offense might depart quickly following a successful series. The veteran likely leads only one or two first-quarter drives.
NOTES: K Cairo Santos probably will miss Friday’s preseason opener with a groin injury. Head coach Andy Reid said the issue might be connected to scar tissue from a previous injury the kicker experience in college. … LB Derrick Johnson continues receiving occasional rest as part of the Chiefs’ plan to moderate his reps during training camp as he returns from a Achilles rupture sustained last December. … TE Travis Kelce missed his fifth straight practice Tuesday since developing knee inflammation, an occasional recurrence stemming from his microfracture knee surgery in 2013. … S Eric Berry missed his third straight practice because of a sore heel. … DT Bennie Logan missed his third straight practice Tuesday with a knee injury. … CB Steven Nelson returned to the practice field Monday after missing three practices because of a groin injury. … CB Terrance Mitchell returned to practice on Sunday after sustaining a hamstring injury on Aug. 3. … CB Phillip Gaines filled in starting on the right side following injuries to Steve Nelson and Terrance Mitchell and continues receiving the majority of snaps at right corner with the first-team defense. … DT Maurice Swain, an undrafted free agent from Auburn, joined the team Monday. … DE Chris Jones remains on the physically unable to perform but continues performing rehab work on the sidelines during practice.