The weather during the first week of Chiefs training camp has been unusually delightful.
Far from the typical late July swelter, temperatures have been moderate and the humidity manageable for coach Andy Reid’s morning practices.
You’ll forgive rookie cornerback Phillip Gaines if he hasn’t noticed. He is, after all, being baptized by fire right now.
Gaines, a third-round pick from Rice, is making a significant jump in the level of competition, but so far he’s also holding his own, especially working from the slot with the second string in nickel packages.
“Phillip has really good speed,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “His is going to be a lot of technique things that has to keep developing, no different than any of the other corners, but I think he’s showing some signs out there.”
That stands in contrast from earlier in the offseason when Gaines struggled.
“The toughest adjustment is relying on technique every day,” Gaines said. “In college, sometimes you’re just better than somebody and don’t have to rely too much on technique. But everybody’s good here, so you always have to rely on technique. You can never abandon it, because when you do that’s when you get beat.”
Gaines, whose length and speed were touted as his biggest assets on draft day, admitted that’s still raw, but he’s absorbed the Chiefs’ coaching and quickly become more comfortable.
“There’s a lot more double moves, a lot more back-shoulder throws, a lot more throwing away from your leverage,” Gaines said. “Once you understand what quarterbacks and receivers are trying to do to you, you can really excel.”
Gaines’ increasing comfort is producing results and getting noticed.
“He’s great in space and just a great overall athlete,” quarterback Aaron Murray, a fellow rookie, said of Gaines. “His ability to just find the ball when the ball’s in the air has been tremendous. There’s a couple plays where he’s one way and then suddenly flips his hips and is able to get a fingertip on a ball. So, he works extremely well in space and he’s looked good so far.”
Gaines clocked a 40-yard dash time of 4.38 seconds at the NFL Combine, and that speed is beginning to show up in training camp. It wasn’t as apparent during previous offseason workouts when he got beat deep on several occasions.
“Now that I’ve been through rookie minicamp, OTAs, mandatory minicamp and now this, I’m starting to understand the system more and starting to understand where I’m supposed to be,” Gaines said. “That’s allowing me to play with the speed that I have.”
However, at least one red flag from his draft profile remains — Gaines’ durability. He missed several games in college with a broken wrist in 2009 and missed all but four games with a foot injury in 2011.
Durability concerns have cropped up again after Gaines exited practice last week with a hamstring injury and left Monday’s practice with concussion-like symptoms after a collision with safety Malcolm Bronson.
“It’s just been a couple of knocks and I bounced right back,” said Gaines, who has yet to miss a full training session. “I have no problem playing through pain. It’s all part of the game. There’s a difference between injuries and pain. You can always fight through pain, but when you’re injured, you have to know when to throttle it down.”
Gaines’ struggles during previous offseason workouts raised concern, but he’s drawn mostly positive reviews during the full team camp.
“When he’s been out here, it’s been good,” Reid said of Gaines’ development. “He’s had a couple bruises and been banged up a little bit, but he’s a smart kid and very talented.”
Gaines — who is listed at 6 feet and 193 pounds, but said he weighed closer to 188 — played a lot of zone at Rice, but his speed and athleticism allow for an easy transition to press-man coverage.
His only experience in the slot came on third-down packages when the Owls deployed what their coaches described as a box-and-one defense, a zone concept with Gaines playing man against the opponents’ top threat.
“I would just follow the best receiver around, so if he was in the slot I would go inside,” Gaines said. “If he was outside, I’d go outside.”
Sutton said Gaines needs to continue to get stronger to play in the slot on Sundays, but Gaines welcomes yet another challenge.
“I never really played too much inside, but it’s good to expand my techniques and expand my versatility,” Gaines said. “If you can do everything, you’re much more valuable.”