Chiefs rookie shining in camp, but running with the ones? He still has 'long way to go'
Chiefs rookie L'Jarius Sneed has looked pretty during training camp, producing several head-turning plays.
No moment proved more memorable, though, than one on Aug. 20, when Sneed displayed pure speed to cover Tyreek Hill, arguably the fastest wide receiver in the NFL, down the right sideline before batting away a pass at the last moment.
But is Sneed ready to help out immediately if called upon considering Bashaud Breeland will serve a four-game suspension to start the season?
It might be wise to pump the brakes on that thought.
"(We're) just looking at him as a young player and just trying to make sure we develop him, because any guy that comes into this training camp, that came to this camp, we're looking for them to be able to help us down the road," Chiefs defensive backs/cornerbacks coach Sam Madison said after Thursday's practice. "L'Jarius is picking up the lingo. Is he picking it up as fast as we want to? No, but he is working at it and at this point he's feeling comfortable."
Madison's comments echoed those of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spanuolo, who emphasized earlier in the week that Sneed still has some learning to do.
"L'Jarius has made some plays for us," Spagnuolo said. "I think he has a long way to go. Most corners in this league, that's a tough position to step in and play. It's funny you brought it up, I just leaned over to him in the stretch line at the end practice and I just told him that he needs to do everything faster, and I'm talking about from when the play ends to getting back in the huddle."
While the coaches believe Sneed has a way to go, it's hard to ignore the 6-foot-1, 193-pound defensive back's physical tools, especially his 4.37 time in a 40-yard dash. And the Chiefs thought highly enough of him to use a fourth-round pick to select him in this year's NFL Draft out of Louisiana Tech, where he played both cornerback and safety.
But Sneed's is going through a trial by fire this summer despite his accomplished collegiate career, one that saw him total 177 tackles, eight interceptions and 19 passes defensed. Like all players on the Chiefs' roster, Sneed didn't have the benefit of learning during typical offseason workout programs, rookie minicamp, organized team activities or mandatory minicamp because of the COVID-10 pandemic.
The rookie cornerback is essentially learning on the fly.
For now, the Chiefs are getting a good look at what Sneed can do by rotating him with the first- and second-team units, a common tactic utilized by the veteran coaching staff to properly evaluate the roster and position groups.
"Being able to rotate him in with the ones, with the twos, when you're with the ones, the ones all they do is communicate," Madison said. "(Safety) Tyrann Mathieu, he tells everybody what to do. He knows what he's supposed to do and having somebody communicate those things to you that quickly, now you can go out and play fast.
"We didn't have to work on (Sneed) with his foot speed or with his quickness, being aggressive at the line of scrimmage. He came with those tools."
Whether Sneed is in the Chiefs' plans while Breeland serves his four-game suspension remains to be seen. They have other options there, between second-year pro Rashad Fenton and veteran Antonio Hamilton, who signed a one-year deal during free agency.
One thing is for certain about Sneed, though. Madison made it clear that the rookie cornerback is no longer in college. And arguably the biggest determining factor about Sneed's ability to contribute sooner rather than later is consistency. That, and embracing the classroom environment of meetings and the practice field.
"You don't have to go to class anymore; this is your classwork every single day," Madison said. "So, being in that playbook, being in that iPad, understanding the different calls and different situations that Coach (Spagnuolo) is trying to put you in, as well as Coach (Andy) Reid putting in those different situations, and then going out and executing."
Offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele returned to work Thursday after missing a few days of practice with a shoulder injury.
The Chiefs practiced without defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (ankle), rookie defensive end Mike Danna (calf), defensive end Alex Okafor (calf), tight end Deon Yelder (groin), wide receiver Gehrig Dieter (groin), offensive lineman Yasir Durant (head) and linebacker Emmanuel Smith (hamstring).
Offensive lineman Martinas Rankin (knee) continues to work with a trainer while on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.