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Chiefs mailbag: Three wide receivers against two spots

The Chiefs put 11 training camp practices in the books Monday before taking off the next two days ahead of Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The downtime also provides an opportunity to dust off the mailbag to address questions from wide receiver battles to practice squad rules.

This is one of the tightest battles in the coming weeks with no easy answer, and the virtual roster locks are Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins.

For a reference point, the Chiefs started the 2013 regular season with six wide receivers on the 53-man roster: Bowe, Avery, Jenkins, Junior Hemmingway, Dexter McCluster and Chad Hall, and Hammond on the practice squad.

Jul 26, 2014; St. Joseph, MO; Chiefs cornerback Phillip Gaines (23) defends against wide receiver Kyle Williams (19) during training camp. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 26, 2014; St. Joseph, MO; Chiefs cornerback Phillip Gaines (23) defends against wide receiver Kyle Williams (19) during training camp. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The team finished the regular season with five (Bowe, Avery, Jenkins, Hemingway and McCluster) and three on the practice squad (Hammond, Jerrell Jackson and Rashad Ross).

Meanwhile, it’s hard not to be concerned with Hemingway, who hasn’t practiced since July 26 with a hamstring injury.

How soon he returns will affect Kyle Williams, Albert Wilson and Frankie Hammond.

Hemingway’s absence has allowed the trio to make a push at the slot position, especially Wilson, who has done nothing but impress.

Williams has been solid and he has a relationship with quarterback Alex Smith. The fifth-year pro could have an edge for the roster given his experience. He’s also shown no ill-effects from the ACL tear in his left knee that cost him the 2013 season.

A dilemma surrounds Wilson and Hammond because it’s difficult seeing a scenario where the Chiefs can feel safe about stashing either wide receiver on the practice squad.

The Chiefs would have to waive any potential practice squad player on final roster cuts on Saturday, Aug. 30, and that 24-hour window leaves the player vulnerable to being claimed off waivers by another team.

The Chiefs know all about pouncing on a player during that period.

Think back to Sept. 1, 2013 when the Chiefs claimed the following off waivers: Cornerback Marcus Cooper, cornerback Ron Parker, linebacker Dezman Moses, linebacker James-Michael Johnson, defensive lineman Jaye Howard, tight end Sean McGrath and wide receiver Chad Hall.

Rookie Wilson isn’t a secret, and second-year pro Hammond’s growth is hard to ignore.

The fourth and fifth wide receiver — sometimes the sixth if a team goes that deep on a 53-man roster — are expected to contribute on special teams.

Williams, Wilson and Hammond can double as returners.

When it comes to the active roster, players who don’t dress on game day are listed as inactive.

The eight-man practice squad, which a team sets on the day after final roster cuts, is 100 percent different from the 53-man roster. Practice squads this year can be filled on Sunday, Aug. 31.

From Article 33, Section 4 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement for practice squad eligibility purposes:

(a) The Practice Squad shall consist of the following players, provided that they have not served more than two previous seasons on a Practice Squad: (i) players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience; and (ii) free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Ac-crued Season(s). An otherwise eligible player may be a Practice Squad player for a third season only if the Club by which he is employed that season has at least 53 players on its Active/Inactive List during the entire period of his employment.

(b) A player shall be deemed to have served on a Practice Squad in a season if he has passed the club’s physical and been a member of the club’s Practice Squad for at least three regular season or postseason games during his first two Practice Squad seasons, and for at least one regular season or postseason game during his third Practice Squad season. (For purposes of this Section, a bye week counts as a game provided that the player is not terminated until after the regular season or postseason weekend in question.)

Practice squad players are free to negotiate with other teams. They are signed to a team’s active roster and can’t go from practice squad to another practice squad. Additionally, a player can’t sign with the team’s next opponent within six days of the game.

An example of a team signing a player to its active list occurred last season when the Houston Texans signed fullback Toben Opurum from the Chiefs practice squad.

The exact wording on this rule is found in Article 33, Section 2 of the CBA:

(a) Any player under contract to a Club as a Practice Squad player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a Player Contract with any Club at any time during the League Year, to serve as a player on any Club’s Active or Inactive List, and any Club is completely free to negotiate and sign such a Player Contract with such player, without penalty or restriction, including, but not limited to, Draft Choice Compensation between Clubs or First Refusal Rights of any kind, or any signing period, except that such player shall not be permitted to sign a Player Contract with another Club to serve as a Practice Squad player while under contract as a Practice Squad player.

(b) Notwithstanding Subsection (a) above, a Practice Squad player may not sign an NFL Player Contract with his Club’s next opponent later than 4:00pm, New York time, on the sixth day preceding the game (except in bye weeks, when the prohibition commences on the tenth day preceding the game). When the current employer club has a bye the weekend before the game against the Club signing the Practice Squad player to an NFL Player Contract, such contract must be executed prior to 4:00pm, New York time, on the 10th day preceding the game.

Don’t be overly concerned over that play from Day 11 of practice.

Quarterback Alex Smith threw a perfect pass to Kyle Williams and placed it where only the wide receiver could make a play on it.

Also keep in mind the Chiefs, while in pads, haven’t had many full live hitting sessions in training camp practices.

The Chiefs are obviously in transition at the cornerback position with Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker commanding first-team repetitions.

But give it the preseason games, especially the third preseason contest, to fully gauge how the entire defensive secondary looks.

It’s fair to say there will be adjustments this season, and the first hint occurred during the offseason with the overhaul on the back end of coverage.

Gone are safeties Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps, and cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Dunta Robinson. The Chiefs brought in veteran cornerback Chris Owens to fill the nickel position and used a third-round pick on cornerback Phillip Gaines.

The Chiefs also bolstered the pass rush with first-round pick, outside linebacker Dee Ford.

The second season in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme should also help the remaining veterans as they grow more comfortable with it.

Alex Smith is entrenched as the starter. But it’s extremely tough to predict the backup situation or if the Chiefs decide to go with four quarterbacks at this point.

The biggest discriminator has yet to enter the equation, but that scenario will change Thursday night when the preseason kicks off.

The Chiefs are set to give a quarter to each quarterback against the Cincinnati Bengals. How well Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray do in their limited action will go a long way in determining the potential direction.

Each backup brings strengths and weaknesses. Daniel and Murray do well in the short to intermediate game, but Bray has the bigger arm.

Daniel, a sixth-year pro, clearly brings the most experience. And it’s not difficult to see a scenario where the Chiefs want experience in the event of an injury to Smith instead of relying on second-year pro Bray and rookie Murray.

But potentially working against Daniel should the Chiefs decide to get economical is his current contract, which counts $3.4 million against the cap.

Bray and Murray combined count less than a million, according to spotrac.com.

Mark Harrison, who possesses 4.37 speed in the 40-yard dash, had some attention-grabbing moments in early practices, including the Play of the Day on Day Six of training camp.

The 6-3, 230-pound Harrison made a leaping grab over 6-3, 218-pound cornerback Sean Smith on a play that brought resounding cheers from the fans in attendance.

Unfortunately, Harrison didn’t practice the next day with a hamstring injury and hasn’t practiced since July 30.

The lost practice time, five to be exact, doesn’t help a player who signed after a tryout during June’s mandatory minicamp.

And this is especially true considering Harrison is buried on the initial depth chart regardless of potential.

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