St. Joseph, Mo. Clark Hunt couldn’t help but cringe Monday as he watched Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, two years removed from major knee surgery, haul himself up from a soggy practice field.
The Chiefs’ chairman dropped by Missouri Western State University to see his team practice through intermittent showers, and was forced to join the rest of his team in learning exactly what practice is like under Andy Reid.
There’s going to be plenty of hitting, even four days into training camp.
“I will say there a few times out there where you hold your breath,” Hunt said after ducking under a tent to escape the rain, “and you hope the back or receiver pops back up.”
All of them did on this day, although safety Eric Berry left with a minor hamstring injury that was unrelated to the tackling. But the physical nature of the workout nearly two weeks out from the Chiefs’ first preseason game is certainly a departure from the norm in Kansas City.
Two years ago, Todd Haley had the Chiefs playing the equivalent of two-hand touch throughout training camp, and the result was a team woefully unprepared for the start of the season.
Hugging was preferred over tackling under Romeo Crennel last season.
Well, all of that is out the window with Reid, who promised during the hands-off offseason program that, well, the gloves would come off when training camp rolled around.
During his time with the Eagles, Reid preferred to hit hard early in training camp and then taper off as the regular season approached. The idea was to toughen up the team early on, and then give them time to heal before the start of a 16-game grind.
Hunt certainly seems to appreciate that strategy.
“Watching practice today was fun. It was much more like watching a game than watching practice,” he said. “It gets you ready to play football. Here in a couple weeks we’ll be playing preseason games and they’re going to tackle to the ground, so from a conditioning standpoint it’s valuable, and also from an execution standpoint it’s valuable.”
The Chiefs put the pads on over the weekend, but the hitting was limited until Monday, when there were about 30 plays of full-tackle practice along with other physical drills.
It didn’t matter whether the ball was in the hands of Charles, who bounced back nicely from his knee injury last season, or Tony Moeaki, who suffered his own torn ACL two years ago. If they were in the open field, someone from the defense was bearing down on them.
Within reason, of course.
“Do you hit Jamaal Charles full speed?” cornerback Sean Smith said, repeating a question from a reporter with a smile. “If the drill is live, yeah, you have to.”
“You definitely have to take care of your teammates. You don’t want to take any cheap shots or anything like that,” he said. “But this is football. If we don’t hit them, somebody else will.”
So just like Happy Gilmore stepping into the batting cage — “I’ve gotta toughen up,” Adam Sandler’s character says in the film — the Chiefs are taking their shots.
“Oh yeah, there will be some tackling to the ground,” Reid said, as if the idea of anything else was preposterous. “The thud, just so you know, periodically you’re going to hear me yelling the different tempos, and the thud period is live for everybody.”
The first player to hit the ground in practice was Dexter McCluster, who experienced quite a jolt after catching a pass over the middle. Moeaki took a blow just above his knee that drew a gasp from a couple thousand fans that turned out in the rain to watch the practice.
Rookie running back Knile Davis made a nice cut at the line of scrimmage, headed up field and ran right into safety Kendrick Lewis — the kind of wreck that you’d see during the regular season, when the Chiefs are playing the Raiders or the Broncos rather than themselves.
“This is football,” Smith said. “It’s going to happen.”
Obviously, the coaching staff was still quick to blow their whistles during the lengthy practice, particularly when someone was buried beneath a pile.
The hits that the defense was laying on the offense were probably a bit more measured than they will be Sept. 9, when the Chiefs open their regular season against Jacksonville.
But the point is that by the time that game rolls around, the Chiefs will be ready for it.
“As soon as the season ended last year, we’ve been ready to come out here and play,” cornerback Brandon Flowers said. “We want to make plays in training camp; we’re gelling, getting the chemistry down, so we are definitely 100 percent ready to get back at it.”
Notes: CB Dunta Robinson (hamstring), G Jeff Allen (shoulder), FB Braden Wilson (hamstring), CB Sanders Commings (collarbone) and DL Marcus Dixon (hamstring) sat out practice. ... Hunt said he’s open to keeping camp in St. Joseph beyond next year. The Chiefs are in the fourth year of a five-year deal with Missouri Western.