After seven months of running, lifting and studying, the Chiefs finally will get back to real football Monday.
That’s right. The Chiefs, after two full-squad practices in helmets and shorts, finally will don their pads at Missouri Western State University.
“Yeah, that’s the best part about football,” outside linebacker Tamba Hali said. “You go out there, and you run into a guy, and you do that about 60 to 70 times a game. That’s the best part about the game. I love it, and if you don’t like that then this is not the sport for you.”
Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson agreed.
“Yeah, I can’t wait for (Monday),” Johnson said. “First time putting on the pads since I got hurt the first game of the season in 2014. I’m excited. (It’s) maybe the first time in my career where I’m really excited to accept the grind like this year. But it’s going to be great.”
For defensive players who missed a significant amount of time last year because of injuries — like Johnson and defensive ends Mike DeVito and Mike Catapano — it’s not difficult to figure why they would look forward to this day. They get to really see where they’re at physically.
But the first day in pads will also help the offense in many ways.
“It’s certainly real football for us, too, and it helps us,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “All offseason, the run game doesn’t get a ton of attention since it is a little pass-heavy. With that, you get linebackers that drop 15 yards deep and things like that and they don’t really respect the run. It’ll be nice to get back into real football situations and all those little things.”
Like pass protection, where the offensive line can finally get a real, live look at practicing blitz pickup and stunt recognition — two areas where the Chiefs can stand to improve upon their 2014 performance.
“For us, protections kind of come back into that, that’s a big piece of it,” Smith sad. “All offseason, protections aren’t as big of an emphasis because they can’t (be). The guys don’t have pads and the blocking and things like that. Now, with (pads, it’s possible to work on) movement in the pocket, because you’re going to get distorted pockets and you’re going to have to move and slide your feet and make off-balance throws and things like that.”
And even though Smith and the other quarterbacks will wear yellow noncontact jerseys, having a real pass rush coming at them will only help them hone their pocket presence.
“You still have to play like it” is live, Smith said. “Certainly with pads, you’re going to get it more and defensive linemen are going to be going. Offensive linemen are going to have to buckle down, and you’re going to get pockets that look funny and break down. It’s all those things that you’ve drilled all offseason, but you kind of have to put them into play here. It’s really a great exercise of that in practice and it obviously goes into preseason and the season. Certainly that gets stepped up here.”
The padded practices also allow the quarterbacks to truly start working on their timing with receivers, now that corners are allowed to get true jams on receivers.
“Yeah, it gives us a chance to go out there — especially at the line of scrimmage — (and) be able to be physical, work our releases,” receiver Jeremy Maclin said. “That’s something that some of these rookies haven’t even done yet. It will give them a chance to give them a little taste of that.”
Maclin, however, stressed the importance of not letting their competitiveness get the best of them out there when it comes to the amount of physicality they show.
“Although we are competing, we’re working together at the same time,” Maclin said. “You have to be smart out there; you have to know when to contest balls, when not to contest balls. It’s all a team effort here.”
But while the days of padded, two-a-day practices are long gone, Chiefs coach Andy Reid has long been a proponent of holding physical training camps, and that was certainly the case a year ago. Last August, Johnson had the hit of camp when he leveled star running back Jamaal Charles during a goal-line drill.
When asked about the moment on Sunday, Johnson laughed.
“Yeah, you know what? I’ve got to be careful with hitting Jamaal,” Johnson said. “That’s our best player on the team, so I’ll be a lot smarter with that. But at the same time, we’ll get our work done and compete. And he makes us all better because he’s one of the fastest guys in the league.”
So while Johnson might not be looking to level Charles again, he will be amped up to not only see what he can do after his injury, but to get back to real football.
“I’m more anxious, not nervous at all,” Johnson said. “I’m a linebacker, so I love contact. (Monday) will be a perfect day to showcase that after being out so long. It’s going to be great. It’s not going to be perfect tomorrow, for sure, but it’s a first step in making this year a really great year.”