NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - INSIDE SLANT
With the final practices of the 2014 offseason playing out this week at the Kansas City Chiefs' three-day minicamp, it is time for major questions to get answers.
Questions like who will fill open spots in this season's starting lineup?
Instead, five weeks before the start of training camp, head coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs seem to have as many questions as when offseason work began. One open starting job appears to be filled as Husain Abdullah takes over one safety job, replacing four-year starter Kendrick Lewis who left as a free agent and signed with Houston.
But another starting job popped up in the secondary last week when the Chiefs released six-year left cornerback Brandon Flowers. A combination of a $10.5 million number under the salary cap this year and his poor fit for the press man-to-man coverage favored by Reid and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, made Flowers expendable.
Now, the question arises as to who will replace Flowers in the starting lineup? Second-year cornerback Marcus Cooper appears to have the first shot, although four-year veteran Ron Parker is making a push for playing time. Plus, there's third-round draft choice Phillip Gaines in the mix as well.
According to Cooper, the departure of Flowers has not changed anything in how he's prepping for the coming season.
"Every day I go out there to practice with the idea that I'm the starter," Cooper said. "I just have to keep grinding, going out every day and getting better. Everything else will fall into place."
General manager John Dorsey likes his corners tall and lanky, much like the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Cooper. At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Flowers was one of the two smallest defensive backs on the roster. The decision was months in the making and was largely based on the fact Flowers' release would open up $7.5 million in money under the salary cap, something the Chiefs need as they try to sign quarterback Alex Smith and outside linebacker Justin Houston to contract extensions.
"I can tell you it was not a shock; this was something that we had worked through and talked through as an organization," Reid said. "It was best for what we're trying to get done here."
Cooper and Parker have been working with the first team in the last practices of the offseason due to the Flowers absence and the demotion of starting right cornerback Sean Smith. Smith was arrested in Kansas City earlier this month on DUI charges, and has been running with the second team since that incident.
When Smith is off the field, Cooper slides to the right side and Parker opens at left cornerback.
NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Chiefs are glad to see running back De'Anthony Thomas back on the field this week during the three-day minicamp, even if it showed he isn't quite ready for the heat and humidity here.
The 5-foot 8, 176-pound, fourth-round draft pick missed the club's 10 OTA practices because of the NFL rule that mandates players to stay away from offseason work until the current semester is finished at their college, in this case the University of Oregon.
Thomas may not have been as thrilled to be back when he had to leave the field during the first practice Tuesday because he was unable to deal with the heat and humidity of a June day in the Midwest. He returned to practice in a limited role Wednesday.
While he was away, Thomas regularly chatted over Skype with Chiefs running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, who tried to keep him updated on the offensive playbook, where he will be used as a runner and receiver, along with expected duties as a returner in the kicking game.
"From a teaching standpoint, you can't overload the kid," said head coach Andy Reid. "That's not fair and his production would probably be way down if you did that. You want to ease him into it and see how he does and there has to be some patience there."
--Another draftee is doing even better as sixth-round pick Zach Fulton seems to have worked his way into the No. 1 spot at right guard.
It is difficult to confirm his status based on offseason work that does not allow football contact, especially between offensive and defensive linemen. But the University of Tennessee product has picked up the scheme and seems to be doing better than Rishaw Johnson, Rokevious Watkins and Jeff Linkenbach.
At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Fulton is a blocker of the road grader variety and appears to have good foot quickness.
--As expected, outside linebacker Justin Houston was a no-show for the mandatory minicamp.
Houston has not said publicly why he is boycotting the team's offseason work, but it appears related to his paycheck. He has one more season left on his rookie contract and the Chiefs have been in discussions with his agent about an extension. Since he is currently under contract, he can be fined as much as $69,455 for his absence.
With Houston gone, Frank Zombo began the OTAs as the starter on the strong side. But for the minicamp, first-round draft choice Dee Ford was working with the first team.
--For the first time since he underwent microfracture knee surgery in September 2013, tight end Travis Kelce was on the practice field, taking part in the position drills and instillation work with the Chiefs offense.
Kelce appeared in one game before his rookie season shut down because of the knee problem. The Chiefs say Kelce will be full-go for training camp practices in late July. His teammates like what they saw during minicamp practice.
"I thought he looked great," said quarterback Alex Smith. "He's been working his tail off for a long time now. He's been here trying to get it right, so this is just the next step for him."
NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Chiefs' picks:
Round 1/23 -- Dee Ford, OLB, 6-2, 252, Auburn
--Last season, the Chiefs were sixth in the NFL in sacks (47), but in their six losses in the regular season and playoffs, they had just six. They lost twice to Denver, San Diego and Indianapolis, and when quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers are one-fourth of the schedule, the more productive pass rushers the merrier. Ford was the second-rated pass rusher on the Chiefs board based on his explosive first step. With starting outside linebacker Tamba Hali sitting with just two more seasons on his contract, his replacement is now in place.
Round 3/87 -- Phillip Gaines, CB, 6-1, 185, Rice
--A team in today's NFL can't have enough pass rushers or talented players in pass coverage. After getting their rusher in the first round, the Chiefs picked up a coverage guy in the third. He may be a reach given that in 52 games and 40 starts Gaines finished his college career with just four interceptions, all in his senior season. But he did set a school record for passes broken up (36) during a career with the Owls.
Round 4/124 -- De'Anthony Thomas, RB, 5-9, 174, Oregon
--The Chiefs were not intent on signing Dexter McCluster after the 2013 season, and the former second-round choice landed with the Tennessee Titans. With Thomas, they replaced him and may have upgraded the talent level on the roster as well. McCluster was quick, but did not necessarily possess straight-line speed; the Chiefs think Thomas has both the quickness and explosive speed. For the Ducks, Thomas averaged 12 yards every time the ball was in his hands as a runner, receiver and returner. He will do all three with the Chiefs.
Round 5/163 -- Aaron Murray, QB, 6-0, 200, Georgia
--Through different general managers, coaches, coordinators and other decision-makers, the Chiefs have not been an active participant in drafting quarterbacks. Including the 1998 selection meeting, Kansas City picked three quarterbacks in 16 drafts. Murray is the most gifted and experienced college quarterback the franchise has drafted since 1983 when they made Todd Blackledge the No. 7 pick in the first round. A torn ACL and surgery put an early end to Murray's career with the Bulldogs, but he moved on as the all-time touchdown passer in the SEC with 121 scores over his four-year, 52-game starting career.
Round 6/193 -- Zach Fulton, G, 6-5, 316, Tennessee
--The offensive line at Arrowhead Stadium has been in a state of flux since the end of the 2013 season and Fulton will get a quick chance to be involved at a position that's wide open: right guard. Last year's starters Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah left in free agency and the tentative depth chart has untested Rishaw Johnson in the starting lineup. Fulton played his whole career at Rocky Top at right guard and if he can make the transition, he'll be in the mix for playing time.
Round 6/200 -- Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, T, 6-5, 321, McGill (Canada)
--LDT was a mystery to the Chiefs before last January's East-West Shrine Game. That's where the guy that goes by the Americanized name of Larry caught the eye of NFL scouts with his athletic ability, especially his quickness, speed and flexibility for someone standing 6-5, 321 pounds. Due to the competition level in the Canadian colleges, just how high LDT can rise in the NFL is in doubt and thus he's considered a project. But given he's in his third year of medical school in Montreal, he won't be held back by being unable to handle the mental side of the game.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--LB Dee Ford (1/23): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Phillip Gaines (3/87): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB De'Anthony Thomas (4/124): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Aaron Murray (5/163): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Zach Fulton (6/193): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (6/200): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Husain Abdullah: UFA; terms unknown.
--LS Thomas Gafford: Potential UFA; $730,000/1 yr.
--TE Richard Gordon: Potential RFA; $645,000/1 yr.
--WR Kyle Williams: UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Frank Zombo: Potential UFA; $1.625M/2 yrs, $100,000 SB.
--DT Jermelle Cudjo: FA Rams; terms unknown.
--G/T Jeff Linkenbach: UFA Colts; terms unknown.
--DT Kyle Love: Not tendered as RFA by Jaguars; terms unknown.
--ILB Joe Mays: UFA Texans; $6M/2 yrs.
--RB Joe McKnight: FA; $645,000/1 yr.
--CB Christopher Owens: UFA Dolphins; terms unknown.
--CB Justin Rogers: FA; terms unknown.
--CB Kevin Rutland: FA; $570,000/1 yr.
--CB DeMarcus Van Dyke: FA; $645,000/1 yr.
--DT Vance Walker: UFA Raiders; $10.02M/3 yrs, $3M SB.
--OT J'Marcus Webb: UFA Vikings; terms unknown.
--T Branden Albert: UFA Dolphins; $46M/5 yrs, $8.5M SB/$25M guaranteed.
--G Jon Asamoah: UFA Chiefs; $22.5M/5 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--S Quintin Demps: UFA Giants; $1M/1 yr, $100,000 SB/$100,000 RB.
--CB Brandon Flowers (released).
--LB Robert James (released).
--DT Tyson Jackson: UFA Falcons: $25M/5 yrs.
--TE Dominique Jones (released).
--LB Akeem Jordan: UFA Redskins; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Kendrick Lewis: UFA Texans; $795,000/1 yr, $100,000 guaranteed.
--WR Dexter McCluster: UFA Titans; $12M/3 yrs, $4.5M guaranteed.
--DE Brandon Moore (released).
--DT Jerrell Powe: Not tendered as ERFA/Texans; terms unknown.
--CB Dunta Robinson (released).
--G Geoff Schwartz: UFA Giants; $16.8M/4 yrs, $3.2M SB/$6.2M guaranteed.