ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – Training camp is part of an evaluation process for teams to find the right players for the regular season.
The Chiefs know what they have with quarterback Alex Smith, running back Jamaal Charles, defensive tackle Dontari Poe, strong safety Eric Berry and arguably the deepest linebacker corps in the league, among other established players.
But emerging players in training camp often boost their individual value and contribute to a team’s push to become a contender. Conversely, there are also players whose performances cause their individual stock to drop.
Below is a look at five areas on both sides based on the recently concluded Chiefs training camp:
Inside linebacker James-Michael Johnson: It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle on a defense that sent a league-high six players to the Pro Bowl, but Johnson’s consistency made him a player hard to ignore.
The Chiefs claimed Johnson off waivers from the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 1, 2013 and he learned the system as the season went on. While he won’t push Pro Bowler Derrick Johnson for the starting job at right inside linebacker any time soon, Johnson is a valuable backup and special teams player.
The improvement seen in Johnson, who turns 25 on Aug. 20, is attributed to having a full training camp with the Chiefs under his belt.
“Last year I got here after training camp,” Johnson said. “I didn’t get any repetitions until the Washington game. That was my first time running the defense. Then I got in during the Raiders game and the Chargers game. My first time was live action, so I didn’t really get a lot of practice. This year I got to practice, so it’s a lot easier now, it’s slowed down.”
Johnson totaled eight tackles and a pass defensed in last week’s preseason opening win against the Cincinnati Bengals. He saw action on 42 defensive snaps (58 percent) and 10 plays on special teams.
Rookie guard Zach Fulton: Arguably the biggest surprise of the offseason, and the sixth-round pick could prove the Chiefs’ best value selection of the 2014 draft. Fulton first turned heads during the mandatory minicamp when he and Rishaw Johnson split repetitions at right guard with the first-team offensive line.
It became clear two days into training camp the right guard job was Fulton’s to lose. He’s currently listed as the starter on the depth chart and took virtually all the first-team repetitions at right guard during training camp.
Healthy and ready for two knees: Tight end Travis Kelce proved his knee is just fine with an explosive 69-yard touchdown run in the preseason opener on a play where he outran defensive backs.
Having a healthy Kelce in the mix with Anthony Fasano and the emerging Demetrius Harris makes the tight end position one of the Chiefs’ strongest areas on offense.
The Chiefs have tinkered with having Kelce and Fasano on the field at the same with the first-team offense during 11-on-11 drills. So while Fasano is listed as the starter, consider Fasano as 1(a) and Kelce as 1(b).
The 6-5, 260-pound Kelce will see the plenty of action this season in coach Andy Reid’s version of a tight end-friendly West Coast offense.
Meanwhile, second-year free safety Malcolm Bronson is healthy from a 2012 ACL tear, he’s comfortable in the defense and both areas translate to how he’s performed during training camp.
Bronson displayed his ball-hawking skills with a pick-6 in the preseason opener, and he’s also recorded interceptions during 11-on-11 drills.
The 5-11, 192-pound Bronson is a versatile defensive back and can also play at the nickel position. His value to the team as a backup to starting free safety Husain Abdullah by Sanders Commings’ ankle and fibula injury.
Undrafted dynamic duo: Local observers of the Chiefs knew about wide receiver Albert Wilson long before the national love arrived.
The bottom line: Wilson is a player.
Wilson, an undrafted free agent signing out of Georgia State, has made a strong case to make the 53-man roster with consistent play through organized team activities (OTAs), mandatory minicamp and training camp.
The Chiefs have a tough decision to make when it comes to the fifth or sixth wide receiver, both spots required to contribute on special teams. Wilson can fill that role given his versatility on special teams. He made a statement during the preseason opener with a 65-yard kickoff return.
Rookie strong safety Daniel Sorensen is the other undrafted free agent who came on during training camp. Sorensen has worked with the first-team defense in place of the injured Eric Berry (right heel).
The former Brigham Young University star drew the start in Berry’s place over Jerron McMillian despite being listed third on the depth chart behind Berry and McMillian.
McMillian has time to close the gap during the preseason, but the 6-2, 208-pound Sorensen appears to have the edge to be Berry’s primary backup.
“We’re looking for a guy that can go back there and make calls and also make plays,” defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas said of Sorensen. “He has great size; he’s smart enough, now he has to get a little bit more instincts back there.”
Guard Ricky Henry: The Chiefs started giving the third-year pro time at left and right guard with the first-team offense during the latter stages of training camp. He also saw extensive time with the second-team offense at right guard at the expense of Jeff Linkenbach, whom the Chiefs currently list second on the depth chart at the position.
Henry can overtake Linkenbach for good with strong performances in the next two preseason games.
Wide receiver Weston Dressler: The former Canadian Football League star finished training camp buried on the depth chart after putting on a strong performance during OTAs. He’ll need to come on strong in the final two preseason games before the first roster cuts from 90 to 75 on Aug. 26.
Guard Rishaw Johnson: Once viewed as the top choice to replace Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah at right guard, Johnson fell behind rookie Zach Fulton for the starting job and is now facing a challenge from Ricky Henry.
Offensive lineman Jeff Linkenbach: The Chiefs signed Linkenbach to a one-year deal in March with hopes he could provide veteran depth at tackle or guard. But the fifth-year pro hasn’t done much to make a statement for a roster spot. He’s currently battling rookie Laurent Duvernay-Tardif for a backup spot at left guard.
Defensive back Sanders Commings: For all the talent and potential, Commings can’t shake the injury bug. The second-year pro landed on injured reserve last season with a shoulder injury originally sustained in training camp, and he’s now recovering from ankle surgery and a fractured fibula. Commings also dealt with a foot strain, which caused him to start training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Kicker Ryan Succop: The sixth-year pro is facing stiff competition from rookie Cairo Santos. Succop also missed four days of practice with a groin injury. Off the all the roster battles, Succop is an incumbent realistically competing to save his job.