Chiefs mailbag: Depth, versatility among post-draft questions

The post-NFL Draft edition of the mailbag tackles questions on player versatility, projected depth at position groups and a tale of the tape, among other subjects.

Taking that approach shouldn’t always be viewed as a bad thing.

Put it this way from a real-world perspective: How often has a call to a business resulted in no resolution for an issue because the person who usually handles it is out of the office? There’s nothing more frustrating than hearing, “John Doe handles that, but he isn’t here.”

Going back to my Army roots, troops in a squad or team element are expected to know other’s jobs because if one person fell, another had to immediately pick up the slack.

OK, perhaps too deep of a comparison, but the principle applies.

The Chiefs under this regime appear to utilize that philosophy at certain position groups and covet versatility along the offensive line, which was boosted by the selection of Missouri’s Mitch Morse in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson discussed the importance of versatile linemen on Jan. 1, 2014 after Donald Stephenson played right and left tackle during the 2013 season.

“You have to have those guys,” Pederson said then. “You have to have those swing tackles and guards that can play center. This time of year, you go with it and everybody’s ready to go.”

Pederson said the coaching staff identifies “certain guys,” all of whom can play various positions. The Chiefs will then work those players along the offensive line during organized team activities (OTAs) to get them comfortable.

“And you begin to work those techniques and fundamentals,” Pederson said then. “So in their mind, as you build through OTAs and you get into training camp, in the players’ minds, they now know that, ‘I have an opportunity to be versatile and play on either side of the ball.’”

Morse can play all five spots on the offensive line, Stephenson can play both tackle positions; Jeff Allen can play guard and tackle; and second-year pro Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was drafted in 2014 after playing tackle in college, but shifted to guard on the second day of rookie minicamp.

Players with versatility aren’t limited to the offensive side of the ball, evidenced by defensive back Ron Parker, who started the 2014 season at cornerback.

Parker’s flexibility to play safety was critical when All-Pro strong safety Eric Berry missed five games with a high ankle sprain early in the season, and then when Berry was placed on the non-football injury list with lymphoma.

A team would have highly specialized players at each position in a perfect world. There are positions, of course, requiring a unique skillset, such as quarterback, running back, wide receiver, cornerback, kicker, among others.

But versatility also offers healthy competition, and this Chiefs regime is all about that.

The tight end is more important to coach Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense than individually to quarterback Alex Smith.

For some background, I’ve written extensively on the position going back to my days with Pro Football Weekly since Reid arrived. Here are some reads, which includes voices from former Philadelphia Eagles players, on the position’s vital role:

Signs point to TE involvement, success in Chiefs offense, via Pro Football Weekly in January 2013

Healthy tight ends the key to Chiefs offense

Confidence grows at Chiefs tight end position

Expecting a player to come in and have an immediate impact in this scheme, especially at the tight end position, is a stretch if he experiences difficulty learning the system.

“If the offensive system in college was nothing like the West Coast offense,” former Eagles tight end Chad Lewis, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, told ChiefsDigest.com on April 4, 2014, “then it will be challenging to pick it up and it might even take as a tight end a year to get comfortable.”

The Chiefs currently have Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris, Richard Gordon, Adam Schiltz, Brandon Barden and rookie James O’Shaughnessy, the team’s second of two fifth-round picks.

O’Shaughnessy is the only tight end of the group without experience in Reid’s scheme, which as noted in the above links has been described as complex by former Eagles players.

For a numbers comparison, the Chiefs entered 2014 training camp with five tight ends: Kelce, Harris, Gordon, Anthony Fasano and Sean McGrath. Schiltz was signed in training camp to replace McGrath, who retired.

Experience and an understanding of what is expected are keys for the position, and the Chiefs have those areas covered with the existing group outside of O’Shaughnessy, who has an opportunity to develop and learn from veterans.

The Chiefs don’t have to go out of the way to sign undrafted free agents.

It was a little surprising on the surface with Husain Abdullah entering the final year of a two-year deal, and Tyvon Branch was signed to a one-year contract.

And there are no guarantees Eric Berry will be available in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs have Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen, Kelcie McCray – all of whom have experience in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme – and Sanders Commings in addition to Berry, Abdullah and Branch. Parker is officially listed as a defensive back, but he is a virtual lock to line up at safety, especially if Berry can’t play as he battles lymphoma.

The wildcard is Commings, who spent his first two seasons on injured reserve since being selected in the fifth-round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

A shoulder injury suffered in training camp wrecked Commings’ rookie campaign, and then he suffered a fractured fibula and high ankle sprain the first week of training camp in 2014.

But the former Georgia Bulldog is apparently doing well on his recovery and on track to return

“He’ll help us down the road here and he’s rehabbed like crazy,” coach Andy Reid said of Commings on April 20, the first day of the offseason workout program.

The Chiefs must be comfortable with Commings’ pending return to not add another safety.

For comparison of current numbers to last year, the Chiefs entered the 2014 training camp with six safeties: Berry, Abdullah, Commings, Sorensen, Malcolm Bronson and Jerron McMillian (Parker lined up at cornerback to start training camp).

Interesting question, so let’s look at the tale of the tape between the Chiefs cornerbacks and the Oakland Raiders rookie wide receiver:

TEAM PLAYER HEIGHT WEIGHT SPEED

Chiefs

Marcus Peters 6-0 197

4.53

Chiefs

Phillip Gaines 6-0 193

4.38

Raiders

Amari Cooper 6-1 211

4.42

Peters, the Chiefs’ first-round pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, and Gaines, a third-round pick in 2014, can match Cooper in the height department, while Cooper has an edge over both in weight.

Cooper, the fourth overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, runs faster than Peters, but won’t blow by Gaines, who clocked a blazing 4.38 at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.

Gaines and Peters possess high confidence, a requirement given the nature of the cornerback position.

But from a pure nastiness point of view, Peters, who plays with a big chip on his shoulder, likely has an edge over Gaines.

The cornerback responsible for drawing the assignment on Cooper depends on which side of the field Cooper lines up and more importantly the game plan.

Ultimately, the Chiefs have two capable cornerbacks in Peters and Gaines to shadow Cooper for the long haul.

The 6-3, 205-pound Chris Conley, the first of two third-round picks of the 2015 NFL Draft, has the size and 4.35 40-yard dash speed.

But don’t expect eye-popping numbers from Conley during his rookie season.

He has to first learn the Chiefs’ version of the West Coast offense before there is a 100 percent comfort level within the scheme. And that acclimation period isn’t likely to occur overnight.

“It took me a year and a half to process the whole terminology of the West Coast offense,” former Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston told ChiefsDigest.com in March 2014. “Once they (wide receivers) get that down pat, going into their second season I think everything will improve from there because you want to learn a little bit each year.”

The adjustment period from college football to Reid’s version of the West Coast offense will take time and the Chiefs won’t have to rush Conley on the field.

But the good news is Conley will learn from wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, both of whom bring extensive knowledge of the scheme and coach Andy Reid.

Moreover, Conley has the mental capacity to quickly absorb information, evidenced by being named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2014.

It wouldn’t surprise to see another center join the roster before training camp to boost competition or at the very least to add depth, which would help keep the players fresh.

The Chiefs entered last year’s camp with centers Rodney Hudson, Eric Kush and Ben Gottschalk, even with Hudson as the clear starter.

But short of a major signing, the headline battle for the starting job in the coming months is between Kush and Morse.

———-

Have a Chiefs-related question? Tweet them to @HerbieTeope or hashtag #ChiefsDigest. But note only my Twitter followers will have questions featured here.

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