Scenarios to monitor when Chiefs report for training camp

Aug. 3, 2015; St. Joseph, MO; Chiefs linebackers Tamba Hali (91), Derrick Johnson (56) and Justin Houston (50) share a smile before a training camp practice at Missouri Western State University. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Aug. 3, 2015; St. Joseph, MO; Chiefs linebackers Tamba Hali (91), Derrick Johnson (56) and Justin Houston (50) share a smile before a training camp practice at Missouri Western State University. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Enthusiastic cheers and the sound of pads smacking will signal the return of football when the Kansas City Chiefs begin training camp in the coming week at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo.

Rookies, quarterbacks and select players arrive Tuesday afternoon and the group will conduct three straight morning practices starting Wednesday before veterans report Friday afternoon. The Chiefs’ first official practice as a team kicks off Saturday.

Like all training camps, there are plenty of areas to monitor, including position battles, ahead of final roster cuts.

Arguably the two biggest situations for the Chiefs affect the defensive side of the ball.

Outside linebacker Justin Houston continues to rehabilitate from an offseason ACL procedure and it remains to be seen if safety Eric Berry, who has yet to sign a one-year, $10.8 million franchise tag, reports in time for camp.

Berry’s status is basically clear. He can choose to hold out of camp, and then sign the tender before the start of the regular season to earn the worth of the franchise tag in its entirety. By failing to secure Berry to a multiyear deal before the July 15 deadline, the Chiefs can’t negotiate on a future contract with Berry’s agent until the end of the regular season.

Houston’s status, however, remains murky despite the Chiefs’ optimism he will return at some point during the season. Should Houston miss extended time, third-year pro Dee Ford has an opportunity to show why the Chiefs used a first-round pick on him in the 2014 NFL Draft.

While questions linger on the Chiefs’ two All-Pro defenders, camp will ultimately go on and the next man on the depth chart must step up.

And that mentality certainly applies to the backup quarterback position, where Tyler Bray, Aaron Murray and rookie Kevin Hogan are set to battle for the right to be Alex Smith’s primary back.

Here are five other areas to monitor:

ON AN ISLAND

The Chiefs are pleased with a pair of young cornerbacks entering training camp.

With second-year standout Marcus Peters a lock at left cornerback, third-year pro Phillip Gaines, who returns from an ACL injury, is the early favorite at right cornerback, while second-year pro Steven Nelson leads the pack at nickel corner.

But general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid are all about competition, and there is plenty of it for Gaines and Nelson.

The Chiefs used three draft picks on cornerbacks KeiVarae Russell (third round), Eric Murray (fourth round) and D.J. White (sixth round) in the 2016 NFL Draft. And the trio will get plenty of work in the coming weeks leading to the regular season.

While Marcus Cooper, who enters the final year of his contract, saw plenty of repetitions at safety during organized team activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp, he could also be in the mix at cornerback.

And with so many possibilities for the Chiefs to consider, buckle in for what will be a hotly contested battle for the open spots.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Rookie Parker Ehinger had 10 total practices at left guard with the first-team unit during OTAs and minicamp, and has an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the position.

Well, provided Ehinger can perform when the pads come on and full contact is allowed. Should the fourth-round pick struggle, the Chiefs have options to consider with Zach Fulton, Jah Reid, Jarrod Pughsley or even rookie Garrick Mayweather.

The rest of the offensive line appears set with Eric Fisher at left tackle, second-year pro Mitch Morse at center, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif at right guard and Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle.

And coach Andy Reid said on the final day of minicamp that he was comfortable with the current rotation.

June 10, 2016; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs wide receiver Rod Streater goes through a drill during organized team activities at the team's training facility. (Jake Gatchell/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

June 10, 2016; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs wide receiver Rod Streater goes through a drill during organized team activities at the team’s training facility. (Jake Gatchell/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

ALL-OUT BATTLE BEHIND NO. 1

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin led the charge with 1,088 yards receiving and eight touchdowns on 87 catches in 2015, but the Chiefs didn’t have a consistent go-to wide receiver behind him.

Sure, Albert Wilson, De’Anthony Thomas, then-rookie Chris Conley and Jason Avant combined for a respectable 909 yards and four touchdowns on 84 catches. And an argument certainly exists that the Chiefs received production from a collective group when considering the passing game tends to spread the ball around and tight end Travis Kelce will get his share of looks.

Nevertheless, the problem of not having an option behind Maclin reared its head during the divisional round of the playoffs. With Maclin hampered with a high-ankle sprain, the Chiefs suffered a 27-20 loss to the New England Patriots.

Wilson, Thomas and Conley are back, and the Chiefs need to identify a split end and slot receiver. The trio has competition in the form of veteran Rod Streater, who signed a one-year deal in March and can play inside or outside.

The Chiefs also used the NFL Draft to select Demarcus Robinson in the fourth-round pick and  Tyreek Hill in the fifth-round pick.

Meanwhile, it is unreasonable to think the Robinson and Hill will have an immediate impact when considering the complexity of the offense.

But it is reasonable to believe Conley can take the next step entering his second season in the scheme.

REAL HYPE

Inside linebacker Justin March is no secret.

March, who joined the Chiefs in 2015 as an undrafted free agent out of Akron, returns after spending his rookie season on injured reserve with a knee injury. But he displayed playmaking skills in training camp last year that left the coaching staff excited over what he could offer on defense or special teams.

March, who is listed at 6-foot-2, said in minicamp that he currently weighs 238 pounds, which is 16 pounds heavier than the 222 pounds the Chiefs list him.

The Chiefs are loaded at inside linebacker with Derrick Johnson and Josh Mauga returning as starters, and Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander entering their second year. But if March makes head-turning plays like he did throughout last year’s training camp, it will be hard to keep him out of the lineup.

HOW MUCH WILL CHARLES DO?

Running back Jamaal Charles returns from an ACL injury and didn’t participate in OTAs before getting in some work during minicamp, albeit limited to individual position drills.

Still, it wouldn’t surprise if the Chiefs leaned to holding back on Charles to save him for the regular season.

The coaching staff knows what Charles can do in the offense and the team has the luxury of erring on the side of caution in camp and preseason action given the presence of Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware.

CAMP SCHEDULE

Dates and times listed below are subject to change, and any practice session moved indoors because of inclement weather is closed to the public.

Unless otherwise noted, outdoor practices open to the public are free of charge. Missouri Western State University, however, charges a $5 parking fee per vehicle.

Tuesday, July 26 Rookies and QBs report for camp
Wednesday, July 27 Rookies and QBs practice (closed to public)
Thursday, July 28 Rookies and QBs practice (closed to public)
Friday, July 29 Rookie and QBs practice (closed to public)
Veterans report for camp
Saturday, July 30 Practice – 3:30 p.m.
First Practice open to public – $5 admission fee
Team autograph session
Sunday, July 31 Practice – 8:15 a.m.
Social Media Day, Team Autograph Session
Monday, Aug. 1 Practice – 8:15 a.m. (RB, QB, specialists autographs)
Tuesday, Aug. 2 Practice – 8:15 a.m. (LB autographs)
Wednesday, Aug. 3 Practice – 9:15 a.m. (WR, TE autographs)
Thursday, Aug. 4 No Practice
Friday, Aug. 5 Practice – 8:15 a.m. (OL, DL autographs)
Social Media Day
Saturday, Aug. 6 Practice – 8:15 a.m.
“American Family” Fun Day – $5 admission fee
Team autograph session
Sunday, Aug. 7 Practice – 8:15 a.m.
Season Ticket Member Appreciation, Alumni Day
Team autograph session
Monday, Aug. 8 Practice – 9:15 a.m. (DB autographs)
Tuesday, Aug. 9 Practice – 8:15 a.m. (RB, QB, specialists autographs)
Wednesday, Aug. 10 Practice – 8:15 a.m. (LB autographs)
Thursday, Aug. 11 No Practice
Friday, Aug. 12 No Practice
Saturday, Aug. 13 Preseason Game: Seahawks @ Chiefs
Sunday, Aug. 14 No Practice
Monday, Aug. 15 Practice – 8:15 a.m. (WR, TE autographs)
Tuesday, Aug. 16 Practice – 8:15 a.m. (OL, DL autographs)
Wednesday, Aug. 17 Practice – 9:15 a.m. (DB autographs)
Thursday, Aug. 18 Practice – 8:15 a.m. (RB, QB, specialists autographs)
Military Appreciation Day – Final Camp Practice
Camp Breaks

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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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