KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A hint of the return of football occurs with the annual rookie minicamp Saturday through Monday at the Chiefs training facility.
The sound of smacking pads will be absent, however, as players practice in helmets and shorts, and hitting isn’t allowed during the three-day event.
The weekend serves as an orientation for first-year players, where they receive a taste of the NFL and an opportunity to learn what the coaching staff expects.
Moreover, the minicamp provides players set to compete for playing time or a roster spot in the coming months the chance to leave a lasting impression with coaches.
The Chiefs’ 2015 draft class – cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson; linebackers Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander; wide receivers Chris Conley and Da’Ron Brown; tight end James O’Shaughnessy; offensive lineman Mitch Morse; and defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches – are under contract and expected to attend along with 12 undrafted free-agent signings and players invited on a tryout basis.
Here are five weekend situations to monitor:
WHERE DOES OL MITCH MORSE LINE UP?
The second-round pick (49th overall) carries a lot of intrigue in the coming months.
The 6-6, 305-pound Morse proved his versatility at Missouri with an ability to play outside and inside, but where he lines up in the coming days should offer a strong indication where the Chiefs plan to use him.
Rewind to the 2014 rookie minicamp for a recent example. The Chiefs drafted Laurent Duvernay-Tardif as an offensive tackle, but shifted him to guard on the second day of minicamp where he remained throughout the summer.
The likely scenario for Morse is the center position and he projects as the primary challenger to Eric Kush for the starting job.
How Morse snaps the ball during rookie minicamp should offer a preview for organized team activities (OTAs), and then training camp.
Cornerbacks Marcus Peters, the Chiefs first-round pick, and Steven Nelson, the second of two third-round picks, need to work up a good sweat in the coming days.
Both players will miss the organized team activities (OTAs), which are scheduled for May 26-28, June 2-4 and June 9-12, because of the NCAA quarter system based on a school’s academic calendar year and commencement dates.
Washington, where Peters attended, and Oregon State, where Nelson went to school, won’t conclude the 2015 spring quarter until early June. Washington’s and Oregon State’s commencement ceremonies are scheduled for June 13.
Peters and Nelson, however, will be back for the mandatory minicamp, which runs June 16-18.
The Chiefs went through a similar situation with running back/wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas in 2014. Thomas stayed on top of the playbook by communicating with running backs coach Eric Bieniemy during the missed time.
Expect the Chiefs to do the same with Nelson and Peters by having them stay in touch with defensive assistant/secondary coach Al Harris.
Linebacker D.J. Alexander, the Chiefs’ first of two fifth-round picks, isn’t affected by the quarter system. Alexander graduated from Oregon State with a degree in human development and family studies in December 2014.
FINDING THE UDFA GEMS
The Chiefs signed 12 undrafted free agents: Cornerbacks De’Vante Bausby and Justin Cox; wide receivers Kenny Cook and Donatella Luckett; center Garrett Frye; offensive lineman Charles Sweeton; fullback Manasseh Garner; linebackers Sage Harold and Justin March; defensive linemen Charles Tuaau and David Irving; and long snapper Andrew East.
Each player will look to follow in the footsteps of a trio of second-year players: Wide receiver Albert Wilson, safety Daniel Sorensen and kicker Cairo Santos.
Wilson, Sorensen and Santos, of course, signed as undrafted free agents in 2014, and then went on to secure a roster spot on the 53-man roster.
There are plenty of interesting players in this year’s signing class, among them are Bausby, a native of Kansas City, and Cox, who can also play free safety.
The 6-2, 180-pound Bausby, in particular, drew a lot of the Chiefs’ attention in the months leading to the NFL Draft. The Chiefs attended his Pro Day workouts at Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State, had him in for the team’s local Pro Day workout and brought him in for a pre-draft visit.
Cook and Luckett also intrigue at wide receiver, as each enjoyed accomplished collegiate careers and offer size. Cook measures 6-4, 218 pounds, while Luckett stands 6-0 and weighs 211 pounds.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs are friendly when it comes to undrafted free agents.
Of the 53 players on the team’s Week 1 regular-season roster, 16 entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
ROSTER SUBJECT TO CHANGE
Tryout players have a steep hill to climb to sign a contract.
But offensive tackle Ryan McKee, defensive lineman Jarius Campbell and linebacker Devan Walker proved last year that road can be traveled after attending the 2014 rookie minicamp on a tryout basis.
The Chiefs signed McKee immediately after the camp, and then eventually signed Campbell and Walker for training camp. Neither player survived the final roster cuts, but they were in position to compete.
This year’s scheduled group includes former Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss, former Sam Houston State running back Keshawn Hill, former Troy defensive lineman Billy Dobbs and Oregon State Tyrequek Zimmerman, among others.
The Chiefs currently have 89 players on the offseason roster, one shy of the league maximum of 90, so competition will be tight.
Still, the journey isn’t over if a tryout player leaves without a contract.
The Chiefs invited four players to the mandatory minicamp on a tryout basis, including wide receiver Mark Harrison and cornerback Quinton Byrd, who attended the rookie minicamp.
Byrd wasn’t signed, but the Chiefs brought Harrison aboard for training camp.
ENTER AND LEAVE HEALTHY
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Dante Fowler, the third overall pick of the NFL Draft, and Denver Broncos tight end Jeff Heuerman, a third-round pick, suffered ACL tears last weekend.
The two rookie minicamp injuries shook the NFL, but serve as a reminder a season-ending injury can occur at any moment, contact or without contact.
One of the Chiefs’ top goals throughout the weekend should be to limit injuries.