Frankie Hammond Jr. spent 18 weeks on the Chiefs practice squad last season and impersonated some of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
Dez Bryant one week … DeSean Jackson the next. Victor Cruz one week … Wes Welker the next.
This week, in the most important role of his career, he’s Dwayne Bowe.
While Bowe has not practiced this week because of a quadriceps injury, Hammond has stepped into Bowe’s flanker spot with the Chiefs starters and will be a prime target in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.
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And if Hammond continues to perform as well as he did last Sunday at Carolina and on the practice fields of Missouri Western in training camp, he could play a key role in the regular-season opener against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 7, when Bowe has to serve a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
“Frankie is like Mr. Reliable,” said Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. “All offseason, all training camp, every time he’s out there, he knows what he’s doing, he makes plays, and he showed it in camp and the last couple of games. When his number gets called, he’s ready and beyond that.
“He’s playing aggressive and cutting it loose. He knows all the (receiving) positions. We move him all around. I know in the quarterbacks room, he demands a lot of respect because of the way he goes about his business.”
Hammond, who joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent from Florida last year, caught three passes for 57 yards on Sunday at Carolina, including a 33-yarder from Chase Daniel when he worked himself wide open down the sidelines.
A 51-yard catch and run on a pass from Aaron Murray was wiped out because of a holding penalty, but Hammond, who also ran track at Florida, showed he could cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
“I’ve been busting my tail off through training camp, just trying to do all the little things. It’s good to see it finally pay off,” said Hammond, still dripping wet from accepting an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge after practice on Wednesday.
“It felt good, just to finally be out there playing and letting the game come to you.”
Hammond, 6-1, 184, wasn’t a prolific receiver at Florida but made big plays.
As a senior, he produced the Gators’ longest and third-longest plays with a 75-yard catch at Tennessee and a 50-yarder against Bowling Green. As a junior, he caught but 15 passes, but 10 of them were for 10-plus yards and first downs.
Hammond was not invited to the NFL scouting combine, nor was he taken in the draft. But the Chiefs saw a receiver who could vertically stretch a defense.
After catching four passes for 37 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown grab against Green Bay in the final preseason game last year, Hammond failed to make the Chiefs 53-man roster and was signed to the practice squad. The club re-signed him as a free agent in January.
“Everybody’s road is different,” Hammond said. “You have guys who get drafted in the first round, and everything is smooth sailing. And you have guys who have to fight their way to the top. I’m embracing it and taking it all in. That’s the road I had to take.”
Spending the 2013 season on the practice squad gave Hammond the opportunity to improve his skills by imitating the best receivers in the league against the Chiefs starters.
“The practice squad gives you a chance to work on routes without being so cognizant of being wrong,” Hammond said. “I can try different things on different routes and not have to worry about making a mistake. They could draw it up, and you run a corner route, but I can play with this and see what works and just develop.
“I kept diving into the playbook and understanding coach (Andy) Reid’s offense and focusing on special teams as well.”
Daniel quarterbacked the scout team last season and developed a rapport with Hammond.
“I got to experience firsthand the speed and playmaking ability he had, especially against our defense,” Daniel said of Hammond. “He’s making the most of his opportunities. You can see what he brings to the meetings, you can see the confidence he brings and the speed that he brings on the football field.”
Still, will it be good enough? Though the Bowe situation will free up a spot on the 53-man roster for opening week, Hammond is still part of a free-for-all among at least six others fighting for roles behind Bowe and Donnie Avery.
“You never know what the roster is going to look like (for) game one,” said Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. “Frankie Hammond definitely put himself in a position to do some good things and (get) some more playing time.”
Injury update — Add rookie running back De’Anthony Thomas to the Chiefs’ growing injury list.
Thomas, who has been one of the most dynamic players in training camp, woke up Wednesday with a spasm in his hamstring, Andy Reid said.
Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick, has worked at several spots in the offense, both as a runner and as a receiver, and returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown in the preseason opener against Cincinnati.
Starting running back Jamaal Charles (foot), wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (quadriceps), safety Eric Berry (heel), linebacker Joe Mays (wrist), wide receiver Junior Hemingway (hip), defensive lineman Mike Catapano (illness) did not practice.
Reid said Charles and Bowe were “making progress.”
Nickel cornerback Chris Owens left practice with a knee injury.
Minnesota plan — Reid said the starters will play the entire first half and into the third quarter on Saturday night against Minnesota in the third preseason game.
Second-year quarterback Tyler Bray, who did not appear in last Sunday’s game at Carolina, will take over for starter Alex Smith in the third quarter.
The Chiefs’ starting offense has not scored a touchdown in eight possessions through two preseason games, so the objectives for Saturday night are simple.
“Score some touchdowns and win the game,” Smith
said. “You’d love to go out there and have success every single play. That’s our goal, that’s what we’re striving for. Is that the reality always? No. But as an offense our job is to move the ball and put some points on the board.
“Last week, we struggled in the red zone for a lot of different reasons. This week, it would be nice to capitalize on some of those opportunities.”