Mailbag: Looking back on six days of Chiefs OTAs

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The Kansas City Chiefs return to the practice field Tuesday for the final four days of organized team activities (OTAs) before the three-day mandatory minicamp on June 14-16.

This edition of the mailbag recaps the first six days of workouts and includes an audio clips from a recent guest spot on “No Huddle” and The Topeka Capital-Journal‘s podcast at the end.

Good question when considering the nature of Phase III offseason workouts — OTAs and the mandatory minicamp — where players are in shorts, helmet and without pads. Contact is also not allowed during team-related drills, such as 7-on-7 or 11-on-11.

General view of players warming up at the Chiefs training facility.

General view of players warming up at the Chiefs training facility.

Given those scenarios, the work mostly focuses on transitioning what is learned in the classroom to the field and coaches have an opportunity to identify players picking up the playbook and schemes.

The key is the no-contact rule, which tends to hinder a full evaluation of individual players and position groups.

For example, tight end Demetrius Harris made a nice over-the-shoulder catch down the field on Day Six of OTAs after getting behind the linebacker. The safety reading the play quickly reacted to the pass and came over, but had to pull up on what in all likelihood would’ve been a bang-bang play.

Now one could easily speculate that a jarring hit would have knocked the ball loose, but all observers are left with is Harris’ reception.

Numerous positions, especially offensive line and defensive line, rely on contact for evaluation. With that said, observers can get a sense of defensive backs with hips, feet and reaction to plays. The same applies to receivers when it comes to catching a pass.

While it is easy to see if quarterbacks can make throws, signal callers deserve an incomplete grade until live action. Also note defensive backs lay off receivers by not jamming them off their routes to abide by the no-contact rule.

The tricky part throughout OTAs and the upcoming three-day mandatory minicamp is to temper enthusiasm on all big plays, especially whenever a player scores a touchdown in a 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 setting.

Instead, look to see if players have an understanding of what is asked of them during the install period, such as are quarterbacks and receivers on the same page.

Rookie wide receiver/returner Tyreek Hill comes with a questionable past, but it is easy to see why the Chiefs used a fifth-round pick on him.

The 5-10, 185-pound Hill has impressed with pure speed since rookie minicamp. He displays explosion with the ball in his hands and possesses another gear for breakaway speed, often pulling away from defensive backs on go-routes down the field.

Now, with that said, return to the first question in the mailbag and remember there is no contact.

Hill has the speed, for sure, but we’ll see how the Chiefs defense handles his routes when the pads come on in training camp.

The short answer to both areas is yes, and this is what cornerback Steven Nelson recently told The Topeka Capital-Journal and ChiefsDigest.com:

“I feel like I’m ready for this opportunity because I put in the work for it,” Nelson said. “This is my time to step up.”

Click here for the full article, which includes voices from his teammates and position coach, for the longer answer.

Steven Nelson has taken a lot of first-team repetitions at right cornerback and nickel cornerback during team-related drills, while Phillip Gaines (knee) remains limited to individual position drills through six OTAs.

Nelson, who enters his second season, looks sharp and has broken up a lot of passes during team drills.

From Chris Conley, Rod Streater, Albert Wilson and De’Anthony Thomas, the wide receiver battle has shown a mix of personnel groupings. But Streater, who signed a one-year deal in March, has looked good. Well, as good as players can in shorts, helmet and no pads going against defensive backs who can’t touch them.

Both position battles should be considered fluid during OTAs and mandatory minicamp because jobs aren’t earned without pads.

The cornerback battle, in particular, will get very interesting once Gaines, who returns from ACL surgery, is back on the field putting in full practices.

Inside linebacker Josh Mauga, who has started the past two seasons, returns.

But the seventh-year pro is set to face stiff competition this time around from a trio of second-year pros: Ramik Wilson, D.J. Alexander and Justin March.

The battle won’t be settled until the pads come on in training camp, but it is not difficult to overlook the second part of the question.

From general manager John Dorsey to the coaching staff, the Chiefs are high on the 6-0, 222-pound March, whose rookie season came to abrupt end with a knee injury in the preseason.

March, who underwent microfracture knee surgery, emerged last summer when the pads came on in training camp and he wasn’t hard to spot during team-related drills because he was often flying to the ball and making plays.

Buckle in for one of the roster’s best training camp battles.

The trade talk surrounding running back Knile Davis as reported by numerous media outlets, including The Topeka Capital-Journal and ChiefsDigest.com, has been quiet in recent months.

For his part, Davis has been a trooper, reporting for all voluntary workouts and quietly going about his business.

A word of caution on looking too much into quarterback Tyler Bray running with the second-team unit through the first six OTAs because the No. 2 job is far from settled.

The coaching staff needs to see Bray, Aaron Murray and even rookie Kevin Hogan in live action before settling on Alex Smith’s primary backup, and this situation could very well go into the final preseason game.

“I think they all understand that it’s an open competition and they’re going to battle,” co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy said.

Rookie wide receiver Tyreek Hill has participated in punt return and kickoff return drills, and he is arguably the most explosive out of running back Knile Davis and wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas, both of whom were the primary returners last year.

“His top speed is second to none,” special teams coordinator Dave Toub said of Hill. “That 4.25 (40-yard dash) speed is real. That’s one thing we’ve learned over the last month. He’s got legitimate speed. It doesn’t take much for you to see it.”

Should Hill prove to the Chiefs that he handle both punts and kickoffs, it wouldn’t surprise if the team chose to cut ties with Davis, who is in the final year of his contract, or Thomas.

The Chiefs have rotated the left guard spot through six days of OTAs – first three days with Zach Fulton, then rookie Parker Ehinger the past three – but the right guard spot has been held down by Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, last year’s starter.

With Fulton and Ehinger getting the first look, Jah Reid has worked mostly with the backups. But that isn’t a reason to think Reid won’t get worked in the mix before training camp.

The Chiefs under coach Andy Reid will rotate numerous personnel packages during OTAs, mandatory minicamp and into the first days of training camp before the unit settles down.

Parker is intriguing, but it is reasonable to believe the Chiefs will likely lean to experience at both guard spots.

So, as for a prediction: Duvernay-Tardif at right guard, and Jah Reid vs. Fulton goes down to the wire with Reid emerging the winner.

Rookie Demarcus Robinson hasn’t worked with the starting unit, but he possesses a level of toughness and has shown he isn’t afraid of giving up his body to go after a pass in traffic.

As for best rookie corner, KeiVarae Russell could eventually prove to be the best of the group. But the nod for now until the pads come on goes to Eric Murray, who has displayed versatility by playing cornerback and safety through six OTAs.

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BONUS AUDIO:

Clip recapping OTAs during a guest spot on “No Huddle,” co-hosted by Brian Webber and NFL veteran guard Willie Colon.

The Capital-Journal’s podcast on OTAs:

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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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