Chiefs coach Andy Reid praises work ethic of speedy rookie WR Mecole Hardman
Mecole Hardman doesn’t have time to be starstruck.
Sure, he’s catching passes from the reigning NFL MVP, but he’s not thinking about that when he takes the field at Missouri Western for the Chiefs’ training camp practices.
The rookie wide receiver knows that to be ready for the season, he can’t afford to waste any time practicing with stars in his eyes.
“You can’t be out here and having surreal moments,” Hardman said after Monday’s practice. “We out here, we’re all professionals who’ve got to play. I’ve got to catch the ball. He’s got to throw me the ball. We’ve got guys around us that’s been in the league a long time; if you’re out here going to live in a ‘wow’ mode, trying to catch balls from Pat, you’re never going to catch balls from Pat.
“There’s no time for surreal. We all out here, we all know what we’ve got to do. We know our job. We’ve got to work.”
If any of this has been surreal for the second-round draft pick out of Georgia, he hasn’t shown it in the first two weeks of Chiefs camp.
Since rookie minicamp a couple months ago, Hardman has steadily improved, finishing the last four-day stretch of training camp practices with his best and most consistent days yet. On Sunday, he went through the entire practice without a drop, and he showed off his sub-4.35 40-yard dash speed by flat out running away from defenders.
Though Hardman excelled in college with jet sweeps, bubble screens and deep routes, the Chiefs are continuing to work on making him a well-rounded receiver by getting him even more involved in short and intermediate routes.
Andy Reid’s demands of his receivers and complex playbook can be overwhelming, but Hardman is taking it all in stride.
“He’s a smart kid,” Reid said. “I think it was just him getting used to the speed of the game. And then every route here, there’s no route that’s off. Not with a quarterback like we have. You have to run hard on everything. It might look like a clearing route, but you can’t take it that way. That’s not how it works.”
Developing chemistry with Mahomes is key to adapting to the offense, and that connection has strengthened quickly throughout camp.
In his first week of camp, Hardman ran a route incorrectly, zigging when he should’ve zagged. As a result, a dime from Mahomes fell incomplete. But two practices later, Hardman streaked up the field and curled to his right across the goal line, catching the 60-yard pass just before he went out of bounds.
On Sunday, Mahomes and Hardman just missed connecting on a would-be deep touchdown pass early in practice. Afterward, the pair talked it over and looked to be on the same page for the rest of the day.
“I think our chemistry is growing,” Hardman said. “I think I’m starting to figure out where he wants me to be at on the field. I think he’s starting to figure me out as a player, my speed, things I like to do with my routes.”
Not only has Hardman shown a knack for learning quickly, he’s also shown an impressive resiliency. When he got demolished on a jet sweep in the first play of an 11-on-11 set in Sunday’s practice, he stayed on his back for a few minutes before being helped off. Despite the scary scene, Hardman never went to the injury tent. He got evaluated on the sideline and was back in the drill a couple plays later.
“You’ve got about 600 pounds laying on his ankles,” Reid said. “But he was able to bounce back. He’s a tough kid. Played at a good school against good teams. It’s not the first time that he’s been hit, but I think it was that initial, ‘Wow, I just had a whole load land on me.’
“But he got right back in, so you give him credit for that.”
As a member of a deep position group, Hardman has plenty of help adjusting to the NFL expectations and pace from his fellow wide receivers. Sammy Watkins, in particular, has helped him transition. Not only does Watkins help him on the field and in the film room, but the pair also do things together away from the field, like carpool to the team dining room after practice.
“I think that’s what you’re supposed to do as a rookie,” Hardman said. “You’ve got to take to somebody, or Sammy’s taking well to me, and that’s just not Sammy. D Rob, Tyreek, Dieter, Kemp, all those guys that’s in the room. We all bond with each other. It just makes us a better receiving unit.”
When the Chiefs play Cincinnati in the first preseason game on Saturday, Hardman will get his first taste of true NFL competition. It’s not a regular-season game, but it will give him a chance to measure his progress against another team. Not only will his receiving skills be tested, but he’ll also be evaluated as a punt returner. In the long run, he could end up taking over punt-return duties from Tyreek Hill to allow the Pro Bowl wide receiver to focus more on his offensive role.
“Mecole, he’s a work in progress,” special teams coach Dave Toub said. “We have four preseason games that we have to see him in. We don’t know how he is going to react when the live bullets are coming down there. … He’s still getting better and better every day with his catching.
“He’s got to build confidence in himself, and we have to build confidence in him.”