Chiefs return to practice field Tuesday for start of OTAs

General view of the Chiefs training facility. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

General view of the Chiefs training facility. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

The Kansas City Chiefs begin Phase Three of the offseason workout program Tuesday with the first of 10 days of organized team activities (OTAs) at the team’s training facility.

OTAs, which are voluntary, are scheduled for May 24-26, May 31-June 2 and June 7-10, and then followed by a three-day mandatory minicamp on June 14-16.

The Chiefs can run team-related drills, such as 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11, during those periods and new players have an opportunity to prove they understand the playbook ahead of training camp battles.

Still, it is important to temper enthusiasm in the coming weeks because players are not in pads and contact is prohibited.

While OTAs and mandatory minicamp set the table for position battles, evaluations at numerous positions will be incomplete until the pads are on.

In the meantime, here are situations to put on radars during OTAs before the start of training camp, which occurs in late July.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

The free-agent signing of right tackle Mitchell Schwartz ensures the Chiefs won’t enter OTAs with questions at the tackle positions. Schwartz pairs with left tackle Eric Fisher to anchor the outside, while second-year pro Mitch Morse is a virtual lock at center.

That leaves the guard position, specifically on the left side where a starting job is up for grabs after the departures of Ben Grubbs, Jeff Allen and Paul Fanaika.

The Chiefs are set for a battle royale with Jah Reid, Zach Fulton and Jarrod Pughsley as contenders returning from last year’s roster. Fourth-round pick Parker Ehinger should also be in the mix.

Remaining options for left guard could include Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who started 13 games at right guard in 2015, veteran Jordan Devey, who was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers, and veteran Drew Nowak, who signed a one-year contract on May 10.

Nowak, a former starting center for the Seattle Seahawks, can play center and guard.

BACKUP QB

Identifying Alex Smith’s primary backup is a priority before the start of the regular season and the table is set for a three-way battle between Aaron Murray, Tyler Bray and fifth-round pick Kevin Hogan.

How the Chiefs line up with the second unit remains to be seen, but Murray, who enters his third season in the system, has to be considered an early favorite.

Still, don’t count out Bray, whom the Chiefs are high on as evidenced by a two-year extension last year despite Bray never playing a regular-season snap.

Hogan, who played in a pro-style offense at Stanford, needs time to adjust to the team’s version of the West Coast offense.

CORNERBACK CONUNDRUM

Marcus Peters is a lock as a starter, but Sean Smith’s departure left a big hole to fill on the right side and the Chiefs must identify the nickel cornerback.

There re are plenty of options to consider for both spots with Phillip Gaines, Steven Nelson and Marcus Cooper. And the Chiefs used draft picks on KeiVarae Russell, Eric Murray and D.J. White.

That said, the cornerback positions likely won’t settle until Gaines, who returns from an ACL injury, is back on the practice field, which may not occur until training camp.

FROM THE EDGE

Uncertainty surrounds outside linebacker Justin Houston, who underwent a procedure in mid-February to fix the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Houston’s recovery timetable was originally projected at six to 12 months, but the Chiefs are optimistic Houston will be back in 2016.

Any absence from Houston on the practice field leading to the regular season, however, opens the door for Dee Ford to have plenty of repetitions opposite of Tamba Hali. Ford, who enters his third season since being selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, started five regular-season games in place of Houston last year.

Frank Zombo, sixth-round pick Dadi Nicolas, Jonathan Massaquoi, Andy Mulumba and Efe Obada round out the outside linebacker corps for depth.

ROOKIE SPLASH

The Chiefs weren’t shy about getting rookie involved last year with cornerback Marcus Peters (16 starts), center Mitch Morse (15 starts), tight end James O’Shaughnessy (three starts), wide receiver Chris Conley (two starts) and inside linebacker Ramik Wilson (one start).

Inside linebacker D.J. Alexander (16 appearances) and Steven Nelson (12 appearances) were steady contributors on special teams, and defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches saw action in seven games.

The Chiefs’ 2016 draft class addressed depth and bolstered competition at numerous positions, but specific roles are yet to be determined this early in the offseason.

CAP WATCH

The Chiefs as of Monday have $355,100 in available cap space, marking the least amount in the league.

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Herbie Teope is the lead Chiefs beat writer for The Topeka Capital-Journal and ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.

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