KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There will be new faces on the Chiefs offense in 2015, but two players come to immediate mind at important positions.
Center Eric Kush, who enters his third season in the offense, still needs to earn the starting job left vacant when Rodney Hudson signed with the Oakland Raiders. But Kush has worked with the first-team during organized team activities (OTAs).
Jeremy Maclin, who joined the Chiefs as a free agent in March, should boost a wide receiver corps that didn’t produce an 800-yard receiver or a single touchdown in 2014.
But more importantly given their respective positions, quarterback Alex Smith also needs chemistry with Kush and Maclin.
The early results through four practices of organized team activities are positive.
“To be honest, it’s been very, very seamless,” Smith said of working with Kush at center. “I haven’t really missed a beat. Kush has stepped in, he knows the offense, he knows what we’re doing, really good communicator up here. He and I already have a really good rapport together.”
Kush is set to compete against rookies Mitch Morse, Garrett Frye and Daniel Munyer for the starting job.
As for his new No. 1 wide receiver, Smith complimented Maclin’s speed, intelligence and ability to line up at various spots on the field and be effective.
Going against last season’s second-ranked pass defense during practice also proves a positive as Smith and Maclin work to get on the same page.
“He sees the defense already,” Smith said, “Just in the last week, especially going against our defense, just seeing how well he sees things and understands what we’re doing.”
The budding chemistry was on display during Tuesday’s team-related drills when Smith hit Maclin with a well-placed pass between defenders on a post pattern down the field.
“It helps when we all know and we’re all thinking the same thing,” Smith said. “Those guys can anticipate when the ball is coming to them. I think that really helps and already coming back to talk to him, he knows the looks we’re trying to get.”
THOMAS WORKING AT WIDE RECEIVER
The first sign of change occurred on the first day of OTAs when second-year running back/wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas worked with the wide receivers during individual position drills, and it has continued through four OTA sessions.
That scenario proved different from the 2014 OTAs and regular season when Thomas typically worked out with the running backs before the Chiefs converged for team-related drills.
It turns out Thomas talked it over with the coaching staff after the season with hopes to be utilized more as a wide receiver.
He apparently got what he asked for.
“When we got back, I was just surprised when they told me I was in (assistant head coach/wide receivers) coach (David) Culley’s room,” Thomas said. “So it’s amazing just to have a great year with (running backs) coach EB (Eric Bieniemy), and then come to Culley and just try to maintain that great work ethic.”
Finding ways to get the explosive 5-8, 176-pound Thomas in open space makes sense.
Thomas only had 23 catches for 156 yards on 31 targets in his rookie season, but he posted 113 catches for 1,296 yards and 17 touchdowns during his college career at Oregon.
While it remains to be seen if Thomas will return to working out with the running backs, he has been impressed with what he sees out of the wide receiver corps.
“For me coming in from a running back room to that room is a lot different,” Thomas said. “There are some great guys up in there that are ready to play and just go out there to make plays.”
WINCHESTER EMBRACES COMPETITION
The Chiefs transition to a new long snapper for the first time in seven seasons after allowing Thomas Gafford to leave via free agency.
And the competition through four OTA practices falls between James Winchester, who signed a two-year free-agent deal in March, and Andrew East, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt.
While they are competing for a roster spot, Winchester said he and East have developed a relationship.
“There are 90 guys on this team and obviously we know it cuts down to 53, there’s no bad blood,” Winchester said. “It’s always competition and that breeds excellence. Andrew is an incredible young man and I’m excited to be here with him. He was probably the best snapper coming out of college, and to be here with him and competing for a spot is really special. You just take the opportunity and work hard.”
Winchester said the competition has been fun, and he is thankful the Chiefs gave him an opportunity.
Competing for a spot can provide moments of stress, of course, but Winchester won’t have to look far for moral support should he need it.
He can always lean on two former college teammates at Oklahoma currently on Chiefs roster.
“It’s awesome being up here with a couple of former teammates,” Winchester said. “(Cornerback) Jamell (Fleming) and (offensive lineman) Donald (Stephenson), we left OU the same year, so we were at OU together for four years. It’s neat to know guys here and have been here. Donald has been very successful. Jamell has bounced around and landed here with the Chiefs. Both are great guys and hard workers.”