Five lessons learned from Chiefs minicamp to take into training camp

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A little more than a month-long summer break before training camp begins officially arrived with the conclusion of Chiefs minicamp.

Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid watches a drill during an NFL football organized team activity Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid watches a drill during an NFL football organized team activity Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The offseason workouts – 13 in total (10 days of organized team activities, three days of minicamp) – allowed the coaching staff an opportunity to install plays and evaluate personnel.

Still, the evaluation process was accomplished with players in shorts and helmet with no hitting.

“That’s why you need that training camp part of it,” coach Andy Reid said. “Some guys look OK in shorts, and then you put pads on and vice versa. We want to try and get as close to a game speed and tempo as you possibly can.”

Reid’s message to the team last year surrounded finishing; this year Reid wants the players and coaching staff to raise the bar.

“We understand that we need to take it up a level from last year, so that’s what all of the guys are striving to do,” Reid said. “They have all challenged themselves with that, coaches likewise. And we’re fortunate here to have good talent and guys that work hard, so they take upon themselves that responsibility to do that and the coaches do the same.”

The fun truly begins when training camp opens at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo.

Rookies and select players are scheduled to report on July 28, and that group will go through morning practices from July 29-31.

The Chiefs’ veterans arrive on Juy 31 before the team holds its first full practice on Aug. 1.

From rookie wide receiver Chris Conley’s development to the below-the-radar battle at long snapper, there are numerous storylines from the offseason workouts to monitor closely in training camp.

But here are five takeaways from minicamp that also immediately come to mind:

OL COMPETITION

The rotations on the offensive line from OTAs continued throughout minicamp, giving the Chiefs plenty of opportunities to give a hard look at the 15 offensive linemen currently on the roster.

“I think they competed like crazy,” Reid said. “They’ll continue to do that through training camp, and then we’ll see. I’ve said it before, we’ll play the five best and we’ll see how it works out through camp.”

While Reid indicated the shuffling would continue in training camp, it wouldn’t surprise to see the team settle the starters in the early days of camp.

And don’t be stunned if the Chiefs lean to the group that began OTAs and finished minicamp with the first-team unit.

The Chiefs had Eric Fisher at left tackle, Ben Grubbs at left guard, Eric Kush at center, Jeff Allen at right guard and Donald Stephenson at right tackle on Day One of OTAs.

Numerous players worked with the first-team offense between the second day of OTAs and second day of minicamp (11 total practices), and then the Chiefs returned to Fisher, Grubbs, Kush, Allen and Stephenson on the final day of minicamp.

While Grubbs is new to the offense, the two-time Pro Bowl selection is a virtual lock at left guard.

Fisher is also a virtual lock at left tackle, while Kush, Allen and Stephenson offer a veteran presence with a full understanding of what is expected.

Fisher, Kush, Allen and Stephenson are in the third year in the offense.

STABLE ENVIRONMENT

The Chiefs enter a period of continuity with the same coaching staff for the first time in 12 years.

That environment especially bodes well for quarterback Alex Smith, who enters a training camp with the same head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the first time in his 11-year career.

Smith experienced four head coaches, seven offensive coordinators and six quarterback coaches in eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before being traded to the Chiefs in 2011.

This subject was explored while wearing a second hat covering the Chiefs beat as a correspondent for The Associated Press.

RELATED: Chiefs head toward July with stable coaching staff, QB

The AP story includes comments from Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who coached Smith at Utah and graciously took time for a telephone interview to discuss what he is seeing in his former quarterback; Smith on entering a third year with the same staff; left guard Ben Grubbs, who played for two Super Bowl winning-quarterbacks, on the importance of stability; and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.

In summary, the arrow points up for Smith and the Chiefs passing game entering a third season.

“I think he is obviously in full command of it,” Reid said of Smith. “He understands it and gets it. He has a lot of trust in the guys around him, which is a good thing.”

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay (22) during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Tom Puskar)

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay (22) during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Tom Puskar)

KELCE PRIMED TO JOIN ELITE?

New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Seattle’s Jimmy Graham are the first names to come to mind when discussing the NFL’s elite tight ends.

Third-year pro Travis Kelce is on track to join the discussion if he carries momentum from OTAs and minicamp into training camp.

“I can hear him make calls at the line of scrimmage because he wants the football,” quarterback Alex Smith said of Kelce. “Things like that, it’s encouraging because he’s obviously a tremendous player, but it’s so great to see that confidence there on the field, calling for when he wants the football.”

ChiefsDiegest.com readers should already know Reid’s version of the West Coast offense is extremely tight end-friendly based on articles previously written for the now-defunct Pro Football Weekly (links below are live) and this website since Reid arrived in 2013.

The articles were based on interviews with Reid’s former players in Philadelphia and Green Bay, including three-time Pro Bowl tight end Chad Lewis, tight ends Luther Broughton and Jackie Harris, and quarterback Koy Detmer, among others.

Some of the insightful quotes from those stories on the importance of the tight end position in Reid’s West Coast offense include:

• “The relationship between a quarterback and tight end is very important because of the route concepts,” Detmer said in 2013. “The tight end is a big part of it because if he’s not the primary receiver, he’s almost always the secondary receiver. That becomes a real big deal to a West Coast offense with the tight end.”

• “If you don’t have a tight end that can play well, that fits in well, you can’t do a lot of the things that you saw Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Steve Young or Donovan McNabb do in the West Coast offense,” Harris said in 2013. “The tight end is responsible for the blitz adjustment on just about every play. That offense is designed to let the wide receiver do their thing and the tight end handles all the set adjustments, the hot reads, those kinds of things.”

• “Part of it is he coached the tight end position for so many years in Green Bay, he has an affinity for tight ends,” Lewis said in 2013. “He understands the language, he understands the technique, he completely understands. Andy has no problem manufacturing plays to the tight end that helps the running game and passing game.”

• “That offense is made for a tight end to excel,” Broughton said in 2014. “A guy like me – I’m not putting myself down, I had enough talent to be good enough – but a backup tight end, a guy like me was able to thrive in that offense.”

Take a moment to digest those comments, and then consider what Kelce accomplished in 2014 after undergoing microfracture knee surgery in early October 2013.

Kelce posted 67 catches for 862 yards and five touchdowns last season without the benefit of a full offseason workout program. He didn’t participate in OTAs and was limited to individual position drills during minicamp, before practicing fully in training camp.

Kelce admitted on the first day of the 2015 offseason workout program he didn’t return to form in 2014.

“I got from about July on to get ready for the season,” Kelce said on April 20. “So in terms of that, I was a step behind in my eyes and I never really got back to where I thought I should have been.”

A fully healthy Kelce now has a complete offseason of workouts under his belt and wants the football in a proven tight end-friendly offense, leaving little doubt the athletic third-year pro should thrive in 2015.

CORNERBACK WATCH

Get the popcorn ready.

The battle for the starting jobs at left cornerback and nickel cornerback will be one of the fiercest competitions of training camp.

Second-year pro Phillip Gaines took full advantage of first-team repetitions during OTAs with rookies Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson absent because of the NCAA quarter system.

With Peters and Nelson present for minicamp, the Chiefs went with Gaines at left cornerback and Sean Smith at his usual right cornerback spot with the first-team 3-4 base defense.

Peters entered the practice field at left cornerback, Gaines at nickel and Smith at right cornerback whenever the defense shifted to the nickel package.

The Chiefs used a first-round pick on Peters and a third-round pick on Nelson, so both will have an opportunity to compete for playing time.

Reid was pleased with what he saw out of the two draft picks during minicamp.

“I thought they did a pretty nice job, actually,” the head coach said. “Are they rusty? Yeah, they’ve got to get caught up. I say rusty; they haven’t had a chance to get rusty because they haven’t been in the place to get rusty yet. They’re getting caught up with the speed of the game, which looks like they adjusted to very well.”

The Chiefs are deep at the cornerback position with Smith, Gaines, Peters, Nelson, Jamell Fleming, Marcus Cooper, Deji Olatoye, Aaron Hester, Justin Cox and Kenneth Penny, who signed following a successful minicamp tryout.

Penny replaces De’Vante Bausby, who suffered a broken clavicle during OTAs and was waived on the final day of minicamp after reaching an injury settlement with the Chiefs.

SMITH-MACLIN CONNECTION

One of the biggest storylines heading into offseason workouts surrounded how quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin would work together.

And for the most part, the two were on the same page with timing routes during team-related drills.

Their cohesion was emphatically capped off on the final day of minicamp when Smith connected with Maclin on a bullet of a pass into a tight window between two defenders for a touchdown.

A verdict appears to have been reached by Maclin.

“Alex is extremely smart,” Maclin said. “He’s extremely smart, knows exactly where the ball needs to go on any given play depending on what coverage it is, can put the ball where it needs to be, throws a very receiver-friendly ball and has all the ability to make all the throws. He’s proven it out here in the minicamp. I’m really looking forward to it. He’s a guy you want leading this type of offense.”

Maclin’s last statement is pretty revealing.

TOP QUOTABLES FROM MINICAMP

Coach Andy Reid on his plans for Father’s Day:

“My kids are going to take me to a buffet. I’m pretty excited.”

Outside linebacker Tamba Hali joking on the last time he spoke to Justin Houston, who hasn’t signed a one-year franchise tender and didn’t report for OTAs and minicamp:

“I asked if he was coming; he didn’t reply.”

Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson on whenever the offense reacted to a play during drills considering the offseason no-contact rule:

“Sometimes the offense is clapping when (they) catch a ball over the middle. And I’m like, ‘Come on, man. I would have killed them on that one.’”

Rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, a native of Oakland, Calif., on if he received a warning about the Midwest humidity:

“It’s hot in California, too.”

Guard Ben Grubbs on the team camaraderie:

“That was something that I really appreciated once I came here. It really is a family environment.”

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Herbie Teope is the lead beat writer and reporter for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.

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