The Chiefs’ fourth preseason game didn’t match expected starters, but in some ways it’s the most competitive event at an NFL training camp.
Roster spots hang in the balance as the season-opening depth chart takes shape. Teams must trim to the final 53 players by today, and job candidates look to put an exclamation point on their evaluations.
Like wide receiver Junior Hemingway.
On a sweltering Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium, Hemingway’s preseason progress took a sharp upward turn with seven receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown in the Chiefs’ 30-8 victory over the Packers.
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“When the ball comes your way, you have to make plays,” said Hemingway, the most productive of the Chiefs’ receivers on Thursday. “That’s what a wide receiver has to do.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey have some decisions to make at Hemingway’s position, starting with how many receivers to keep. It might be five or six, depending on special-teams needs and whether the Chiefs decide to keep an extra tight end.
Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster start the pecking order. The Chiefs acquired A.J. Jenkins in a trade with the 49ers on Aug. 19. Devon Wiley has a hamstring issue.
Josh Bellamy and Frankie Hammond Jr., also caught touchdown passes Thursday, and there’s Rico Richardson.
Where to slot the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Hemingway? He has made an impression with Reid.
“He’s got good hands,” Reid said. “He knows how to use that big body. It’s just a matter of him getting reps. Inside, he’s tough to stop. He’s a force in there.”
That’s been the case throughout an impressive camp, Hemingway’s second with the Chiefs.
He was the second of two seventh-round draft selections in 2012 — the 32nd of 33 wide receivers in the draft — and spent all of his rookie year on the practice squad. Hemingway made his NFL debut in last season’s final game, on special teams at Denver.
This after a solid career at Michigan, highlighted by a two-touchdown performance in a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech that won Hemingway the game’s MVP award.
He was the Wolverines’ big-play target as a receiver, averaging 20.6 yards per reception and finding the end zone four times as a senior.
Thursday, on his 8-yard TD reception from Tyler Bray, Hemingway took an unfamiliar path on a double move that looked as if it might finish with a slant to the corner. But he flattened out the route and separated from Packers corner Brandon Smith.
“I hadn’t run that route in practice,” Hemingway said. “He put the ball in the air, and I got it.”
The touchdown was Hemingway’s second in two weeks. He had hauled in a 5-yarder from Alex Smith in the second quarter of last week’s victory at Pittsburgh. It was more evidence that he’s making the right moves in the preseason, including diplomacy when asked who threw the best balls in the preseason — Smith, Bray or Chase Daniel.
“All of them throw a good ball,” Hemingway said.
Now comes the tough part, waiting for the news, wondering if he’s done enough.
“Every day, you put your best foot forward,” Hemingway said. “I think I’ve done that.”