NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - INSIDE SLANT
Chiefs want to start in mid-season form
When they begin training camp practice July 24 at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo., the Kansas City Chiefs do not want to pick up where they left off last season.
They will prefer to play back to the level that took them to a 9-0 start in 2013 rather than their 2-5 stretch run. But the players are certain they have what it takes, especially in coach Andy Reid.
"We got the best coaches in the league and nobody wants to go back to what we had before they got here," veteran wide receiver Dwayne Bowe said of Reid and his staff. "We know what we are capable of doing and we know that with coach Andy he will make us able to do even more."
They must do it against a much tougher schedule than they faced last season, and without the surprise element that allowed them to get out to that great start, before the monumental second-half collapse in the first-round of the playoffs against Indianapolis.
That 45-44 loss, where they blew a 28-point lead with 28 minutes to play, is not forgotten amongst veteran Chiefs. That's especially true for outside linebacker Tamba Hali who over his first eight seasons with the Chiefs has played in just three postseason games, going 0-3.
"That one will sit with us throughout this year and throughout the games," Hali said. "That will sit with us because we definitely have something to prove. To lose a game like that - our fans know it, our players know it, the guys that have been here and the coaches know it - it's hard for them to continue to do what they're doing, knowing they put so much into it and things turned around like that? It will sit with us and help us go through this season."
There will be new starters on both sides of the ball, with Husain Abdullah moving into the free safety spot and likely Marcus Cooper taking over for the released Brandon Flowers at left cornerback. Journeyman Joe Mays will work at middle linebacker and former third-round pick Allen Bailey looks like the new starter at left defensive end.
On the other side of the ball, the offensive line will be different, losing three of the team's first six blockers from last season. The 2013 NFL No. 1 draft choice Eric Fisher is moving from right to left tackle. Donald Stephenson will handle the right side. There's a wide-open battle for the right-guard job and there's a chance this year's sixth-round draft choice Zach Fulton will earn the spot.
Here are some of the more entertaining issues to follow during the Chiefs' training camp:
KEY POSITION BATTLE
--Right guard: Last season, the starting job was shared between Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz, but both left as unrestricted free agents - Asamoah signed in Atlanta, Schwartz with the New York Giants.
In the first OTA session, Rishaw Johnson was in the starting lineup. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Johnson has played in just three games after spending practice-squad time with Seattle (2012) and the Chiefs (2013). He has the road-grader physique the Chiefs are looking for when opening running room for Jamaal Charles and pass protection for Alex Smith.
If Johnson falters, others that may get a shot at the job are Rokevious Watkins, a 2012 fifth-round selection by St. Louis, plus this year's sixth-round draft choices by the Chiefs -- Zach Fulton out of Georgia and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif from McGill University in Canada.
--WIDE RECEIVER: The Chiefs have 12 wide receivers on the 90-man roster. Six have played at least one NFL game, but only two have more than 50 league appearances -- Dwayne Bowe (103) and Donnie Avery (71). Last season, the wide receivers accounted for 52 percent of the team's passing offense, with Bowe and Avery producing ordinary performances with just seven touchdown catches total and averaged only 13.1 yards per catch (91 receptions, 1,269 yards).
The Chiefs needed to be active adding receivers in free agency and the draft. Slot receiver Dexter McCluster signed with Tennessee in free agency. But the closest Kansas City came was selecting University of Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas in the fifth round and he will play everywhere in head coach Andy Reid's offense, including wide receiver.
They added other bodies without NFL experience: 5-foot-7, 180-pound Weston Dressler from the Canadian Football League (98 games, 442 catches, 6,536 yards, 43 touchdowns) and Jerrell Jackson, who played 19 games in Arena Football. Apparently, the Chiefs could not afford NFL free-agent receivers.
PLAYER WITH MOST TO PROVE
--Dwayne Bowe, WR: Last year, Bowe signed a five-year deal for $56 million. In his seventh season, the package lifted him to a spot among the top 10 pass-catchers in the league. Bowe then turned in one of the least productive seasons of his career. His 57 receptions in 15 games was his worst season since 47 catches in 11 games during the 2009 season. His 589 yards that season is the only time he's been lower than his 673 yards in 2013. Bowe did perk up in the playoffs, catching eight passes for 150 yards and a touchdown against Indianapolis.
It was not the production expected from a player averaging more than $11 million per season. The Chiefs have not added a significant talent at wide receiver in the offseason, so the catchers already wearing the red jersey must be better. Bowe is capable of much more and needs to perform at the level he did in 2010-11 when he played all 32 games, catching 153 passes for 2,321 yards and 20 touchdowns. As one of the team's highest-paid players, Bowe must prove he's worthy of the compensation.
BEST LONGSHOT ROOKIE
--Albert Wilson, WR, Georgia State, undrafted rookie: Wilson jumped off the game tape during a college career in which his speed (4.38 seconds in 40 yards) was obvious. As a receiver, runner and returner, the 5-foot-9, 202-pound Wilson had eight touchdowns of 70 yards or more, including scoring catches of 70, 75, 78, 84 and 93 yards. He added an 80-yard run for a score and 97- and 100-yard kickoff returns that reached the end zone.
He chose the Chiefs from among the 25 teams that called him after the draft. On an offense that gets explosive plays solely from running back Jamaal Charles, Wilson has an opportunity to stick on the 53-man roster if he can show in training camp and preseason games that he can provide big plays on offense and special teams.
NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - NOTES, QUOTES
--Andy Reid sets out on his summer vacation in the coming days, and the Kansas City Chiefs head coach packs a suitcase with a greater sense of calm about what's ahead.
Reid, who took over the NFL's worst team last year and guided them to a wild-card playoff spot, has a very different feeling about his team than he did in June 2013.
That was Reid's first season in Kansas City, when he said "every day was a new day."
Not so in year No. 2. The Chiefs wrapped up minicamp work Thursday.
"We added a few things on both sides of the ball and on special teams and I thought they handled it well," Reid said. "There was some recall from (last) season and with the new things, they took it all in and worked hard on it. That's a good feeling that we were able to add to our packages. All and all it was a good offseason."
When the Chiefs return to the practice field for training camp in late July, they should have all 90 players available. They ended minicamp with no long-term injury situations.
Three players are coming off major surgeries were able to handle some limited reps in the minicamp practices: tackle Eric Fisher (shoulder and sports hernia), wide receiver Kyle Williams (knee/ACL) and tight end Travis Kelce (microfracture knee surgery).
Reid expects all three to be full-go in camp.
Quarterback Aaron Murray was coming off a college season that ended with a late knee injury and surgery (ACL), but he was not restricted at all in the offseason practices and showed no ill effects in his mobility.
Fisher will be under the microscope as a first-time NFL left tackle in 2014. He moves from the right side to replace Branden Albert, a free agent who signed with the Miami Dolphins.
Due to shoulder and sports hernia surgery earlier this year, Fisher was unable to do maximum-effort work in the weight room for the past six months. Getting him up to speed quickly in the early days of camp is a critical focus for the Chiefs.
"It will be important to get him in there and get him going in camp," said Reid. "We need to re-acclimate him to playing again; he hasn't had the chance to play football in this offseason."
On defense, the focal point is Pro Bowl outside linebacker Justin Houston. He was a no-show for minicamp, holding out for a contract extension. Houston is scheduled to earn $1.4 million in 2014, the final year of his rookie contract. He has 26.5 sacks in the past three seasons.
The Chiefs are prepared for him to stay away and used first-rounder Dee Ford with the starting unit in OTA and minicamp work.
Kansas City has two other key players looking for new deals before free agency arrives in March 2015: quarterback Alex Smith and center Rodney Hudson.
--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.
--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.