As the Chiefs prepared to head onto the practice field for the first of three mandatory minicamp practices Tuesday, Alex Smith locked eyes with Eric Berry and smirked.
It had been weeks since the Chiefs’ quarterback and star safety had seen each other. Berry was joined on the field Tuesday by outside linebacker Justin Houston and cornerback Marcus Peters after the All-Pro and Pro Bowl trio missed the club’s 10 voluntary offseason practices over the last few weeks.
And Smith could hardly wait to bust some chops.
“I just reintroduced myself — I don’t know if he’d forgotten us here, it had been a little while,” Smith said, mischief apparent in his eyes. “All three of those guys, I was just reintroducing myself. Showed them where everything was.”
Over the last month, Chiefs coach Andy Reid never explained the reasons for the three players’ absences — or for the absence of outside linebacker Dee Ford, who was also present Tuesday after missing the last five voluntary practices — other than to remind the practices were voluntary.
So it came as no surprise that Berry, Houston and Peters mainly leaned on that simple reasoning Tuesday while elaborating on the reasons for their nonattendance, though each also insisted they had faith in their home workout regiments.
“Just being away from the game a little bit, just focusing more on training smarter,” said Berry, who spent the offseason in Atlanta near his family. “A lot of times, you try to go too hard sometimes — not saying that’s the case here — but I just wanted to get away from the game and reflect on what I need to work on.”
Berry, who missed OTAs the previous two offseasons while recovering from lymphoma and because of a contract dispute, said he feels recharged after spending time with loved ones, adding the Chiefs knew about his absence before organized team activities.
“It’s always good to be around that good (family) vibe, because I know I’m not going to see them like that during the season,” Berry said. “Everybody needs time off. Sometimes we just get caught up into the grind and never really get a chance to step away … but if you go ahead and take a step back and look at the game from a different point of view, you can see what you need to correct and fix and change.
“I didn’t have to focus on battling cancer or seeing if I can play the game or anything like that. I know what I can do, I trust my skills, I trust my teammates.”
Houston, who also trained in Atlanta, said he wanted to get back to the offseason program he used in 2014, when he missed OTAs because of a contract dispute and still went on to have a monster 22-sack season.
“I’m a one-on-one guy, and even when I’m back home, the group I train with is no more than three people because when I mess up, if I’m doing something wrong, I like to be corrected,” said Houston, who rehabbed his surgically repaired knee in Kansas City during OTAs a year ago. “I want to be perfect in everything I do.”
When asked if he alerted the Chiefs about his absence for this year’s voluntary workouts beforehand, Houston forcefully — and correctly — cited that the practices were optional.
“Coaches always leave that up to the players, so it’s your choice,” Houston said. “It’s your choice.”
Houston said his knee no longer hurts or swells.
“Last year, I couldn’t even run at this time,” Houston said. “It’s a night-and-day difference. I feel great just to be able to get up and go without ever thinking about it.”
Peters, meanwhile, said he spent the last month working out at Empire Gym in San Francisco and McClymonds High School in his hometown of Oakland.
“Doing the same thing I’ve been doing since I got kicked out,” Peters said with a wide grin, referring to his 2014 dismissal from the University of Washington. “I keep my family first anyway, so anytime I get to go home and be around my family, I do it — I take the time out. That’s my vacation. So once we’re here for work, I’m here for work. And my family understands that.”
Peters did, however, say he alerted the club to his absence beforehand.
“I talked to everybody, that’s the main thing — you’ve got to let people know what’s going on,” Peters said.
And their teammates, apparently, understand, as Smith even noted that offensive players tend to get more out of those voluntary sessions than defensive players.
“The offseasons have changed a lot since I first came into the league — drastically,” Smith said. “Everybody’s got their own way to get ready, and I respect that. Especially guys on that side of the ball. We don’t have pads on right now, and that tweaks the dynamic of the offseason and the reps.
“So these guys, I like to bust them a little bit, but I get it.”
The three fit so seamlessly into practice it was like they never left, as the telltale sign was the competitiveness of the practice.
“(There was) a little more chirping, that’s for sure,” Smith said with a laugh. “I heard a little more talk on that side of the ball. I don’t want to name names, but there definitely was more talking.”
All three defensive stars found that comment amusing.
“It’s football, baby,” Peters said. “We’re getting back into the swing of it. We’ve got the mentality we’re trying to win the Super Bowl, so (the chirping’s) going to be high.”
A good example of this dynamic occurred when Houston dropped an easy interception and was visibly annoyed.
“I was more (ticked) at myself,” Houston said. “It was so easy. Immediately I went to game (mode). If that would have happened in the game, I don’t know what I would do. I’d get a flag for acting a fool because you can’t drop something that easy — you’ve got to make a play like that.”
Even Smith, the quarterback that threw the pass, knew that. Which is why he couldn’t help but yell a few words at Houston and twist the knife a bit.
“Gave him a hard time about that,” Smith again said with a smirk. “That’s the fun part about being out here, right? Those are the things that, when it’s all said and done, the camaraderie, that kind of relationship.”
All of which is part of the competitive spirit and close bond that has driven the team to a 43-21 record under Andy Reid the last four years. And if Tuesday’s practice proved anything, it was that it will take more than some missed voluntary sessions, even by defensive stars, to pull that apart.
“We’re on the same team, but it’s like having a house full of brothers — you all are going to fight inside the house, you’re going to wrestle, argue and talk smack,” Berry said. “But as soon as somebody else from another neighborhood or somebody up the street comes and tries y’all, we’re together. We make each other stronger while we’re inside this building.”