While Chris Conley rarely appeared as a kick returner at Georgia, Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub wishes he could utilize him in this facet.
“I always love Conley, but Conley’s going to be starting,” Toub said following a practice on July 31. “He’s really looking good.”
Conley, the former Georgia wide receiver, finds himself needed more than ever in the Chiefs’ offense.
When veteran Jeremy Maclin was cut in June, Conley, a third-year player, instantly transformed from a complimentary starter to an important cog in the passing game.
“There's opportunity,” Conley said. “I think there's a ton of potential here, but you know what they say, potential means you haven't done anything yet.”
Maclin left a void the size of 44 receptions for 536 yards and two touchdowns last season. Speedster Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce will likely be the team’s top targets, but Conley’s statistics -- 44 catches for 530 yards -- were nearly identical to Maclin’s last year. Conley has worked with the first team offense throughout training camp.
“At this point I'm taking the majority of those snaps that (Maclin) left in different spots,” Conley said. “Tyreek is taking a lot of them, too.”
During a full pads practice on July 31, Conley lined up in the slot, on the outside and on either side of the offensive formation.
Midway through a 7-on-7 period that day, Conley started on the left side of the field. He sprinted upfield, broke diagonally to his right and used his 4.35 40-yard dash speed to gain just enough separation from a cornerback. His hands snapped out of the air at the last second as he hauled in a pass from Alex Smith before gliding to the end zone.
“This is my third year in this system,” Conley said. “I want to show consistency. I also want to make us a kind of offense where you have to account for everyone.”
Aside from what Maclin left on the field, there’s a lack of veteran guidance within the Chiefs’ wide receiver room. At 25, Albert Wilson is the team's oldest receiver. Conley, 24, isn’t far behind. When asked on June 14 who has stepped into that leadership role, rookie receiver Jehu Chesson said Conley had.
Entering his third professional season, Conley has a firm grasp on the Chiefs’ offense. He understands the speed of the NFL and said he no longer has to think through his route at the line of scrimmage. Instead, he can plan how to beat opposing cornerbacks. More will be asked of Conley this season, but he doesn’t feel pressure -- he’s excited.
“I'm prepared for this year,” Conley said. “The way I work isn't going to change regardless of how my role has. I'm prepared to play some ball.”