Mailbag: Setting the table for Chiefs training camp

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Welcome to the only true NFL “offseason,” the period between the end of mandatory minicamp and the start of training camp in late July.

News in the next month is traditionally slow and that is not too surprising with players taking a long break.

So, with the offseason workouts in the rearview mirror, this edition of the mailbag looks ahead with training camp in mind, which for the Chiefs begins July 30.

Starting quarterback Alex Smith has been a model of durability since arriving in 2013, appearing and starting in 46 regular games over that span.

The only two times Smith missed time came in the 2013 season finale when the Chiefs rested starters and the 2014 season finale when Smith sat out with a lacerated spleen.

But point taken on the injury front because injuries can and will happen at any time.

Aug. 1, 2014, St. Joseph, MO; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Tyler Bray (9) warms up before a training camp at Missouri Western State University. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Aug. 1, 2014, St. Joseph, MO; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Tyler Bray (9) warms up before a training camp at Missouri Western State University. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Tyler Bray took the majority of No. 2 snaps in organized team activities (OTAs) and the three-day mandatory minicamp, but the battle between Bray, Aaron Murray and rookie Kevin Hogan is far from settled.

While coach Andy Reid said on the final day of minicamp that he liked what he saw from the trio, there is one important area he requires as part of the evaluation process.

“I think the next step, getting pads on and then let’s get them in a game,” Reid said. “And then I think it gives you a little better area of evaluation when that rush is live on them.

“They’re not going to get that in training camp – there’s going to be a live rush, but they won’t be live. Let’s see how they do during games.”

Simply put, don’t expect a decision on Smith’s primary backup until well into preseason action and it could go down to the final exhibition contest.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs have been high on the 6-6, 215-pound Bray since signing him in 2013 as an undrafted free agent out Tennessee, and he has the strongest arm of the Chiefs’ quarterbacks.

Bray’s journey, however, has been mired with injuries. He spent the 2014 season on injured reserve with knee and ankle injuries suffered in the final preseason game, and then landed on the non-football injury list in 2015 after suffering a torn ACL during the offseason.

Nevertheless, the Chiefs thought highly enough of Bray’s potential by signing him to a two-year contract extension in early September 2015 despite him never playing a regular-season snap.

“When you have good quarterbacks, you don’t want to give those guys up,” Reid said on Sept. 4, 2015. “You want to keep that position. They are very valuable in this league.”

Reid also cited Bray’s development as a player on and off the field.

“We have seen him mature here,” Reid said then. “I would like to get him back on the field where he can practice. That is going to take a little bit of time, but he is healing well and we feel confident with him.”

Whether Bray can rise to the occasion and reward the Chiefs’ patience remains to be seen.

The competition for the backup quarterback position is wide open, but Bray will have every opportunity to prove himself.

Let’s start with left guard because the position offered an interesting development during OTAs and minicamp.

Third-year pro Zach Fulton started off at left guard the first three days of OTAs, but then gave way to rookie Parker Ehinger, who didn’t give up the spot the final seven days of OTAs and three days of minicamp.

Ehinger got plenty of repetitions with the starting unit during offseason workouts and that raises optimism. But it is still too early at this stage of the summer to determine who will be the guy when the Chiefs take the field for the season opener on Sept. 11.

Full pads and contact will go a long way in settling the position. And keep in mind Ehinger will face competition from the likes of Fulton, Jah Reid or Jarrod Pughlsey.

The same is true at the No. 2 and No. 3 wide receiver short of having a crystal ball because jobs aren’t won in offseason practices without pads.

Second-year pro Chris Conley and third-year pro Albert Wilson spent time during the offseason working out with Jeremy Maclin, and coach Andy Reid believed it proved beneficial.

“Those are a couple of guys that I thought had good camps,” Reid said on the final day of minicamp. “They’re kind of growing up before our eyes here, which is fun to watch.

“They work very hard – I think it paid off for them. We were able to move Albert to that inside slot position at times and he handled that well. I think I’d tell you yes, that both of them working with Maclin paid off.”

Still, the X position (split end) and slot has plenty of competition heading into training camp.

While Conley and Wilson received a heavy dose of snaps with the first-team unit, don’t count out Rod Streater, who can play outside and inside, De’Anthony Thomas or Tyreek Hill. The trio also rotated in with the starting unit during OTAs and minicamp.

Cornerback Vernon Harris missed the first six days of OTAs because of the NCAA quarters system, but he had an opportunity to catch up the final four days of OTAs and the three-day minicamp.

That said, all three undrafted rookie free agents currently offer depth on defense.

Any early impressions or evaluations must be put aside until training camp when the pads come on and contact is allowed. Both areas are important factors when considering the trio’s respective position on defense.

OK, here are best guesses:

• Preseason Hero: Because everybody loves offense and backup players, it will be an undetermined wide receiver currently buried on the depth chart and that player will ultimately land on the practice squad.
• Breakout Rookie: Wide receiver Tyreek Hill, whose blazing speed is very real. Hill has a very real opportunity to contribute on special teams as a returner.
• Breakout Player: Outside linebacker Dee Ford, who will have plenty of opportunities with the uncertainty surrounding Justin Houston (knee).
• Team Offensive MVP: Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
• Team Defensive MVP: Until the man decides to hang up the cleats, inside linebacker Derrick Johnson. As Johnson goes, so goes the Chiefs defense.

The NFL moved the umpire from the defensive side to offense in 2010.

The primary reason for the move surrounded the safety of the umpire following a 2009 regular season that saw more than 100 collisions between players and umpires.

A side effect to the change occurred on offense, as receivers could no longer use the umpire in the middle of the field as a pick during routes.

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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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