The month-long break between the conclusion of mandatory minicamp and the start of training camp signals the only true offseason period of the NFL.
Jun 17, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Chiefs coach Andy Reid watches drills during minicamp at the team’s training complex. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
With organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp in the books, the Chiefs have an opportunity to recharge batteries before rookies and quarterbacks report for training camp on July 20 in St. Joseph, Mo.
The Chiefs will have three straight morning practices open to the media from July 21-23 by the time veterans report in the early afternoon on July 23. The first practice open to the public is July 24.
There are numerous battles on the way, as virtually every position is contested with two exceptions being punter and long snapper based on the current offseason roster.
As of this publishing, the Chiefs have 89 players, one short of the league maximum allowed. Look for the Chiefs to fill the empty spot before training camp.
In the meantime, here are five takeaways from the offseason workout program to think over:
1. Tight end is a strength and represents what the Chiefs thought it had last summer before injuries ravaged the position.
The Chiefs have five heading into training camp: Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce, Sean McGrath, Richard Gordon and Demetrius Harris.
Fasano is healthy after missing six games last season; Kelce returned to the practice field during minicamp in a limited fashion as he recovers from an October microfracture knee surgery, but appears ready to take on more in training camp; while McGrath, who also doubles as a backup long snapper, and Gordon provide depth.
Still, Harris is primed to make the position very interesting based on his showing throughout OTAs and minicamp. The second-year pro grabbed attention on a daily basis with athletic catches.
Of course, Harris made the receptions in shorts and helmet, and must prove he can perform in pads and contact. But it appears he’s coming along well developing from a college basketball power forward to an NFL tight end.
“You look at the improvement he has made since last year,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Harris on the final day of minicamp. “He came in as a basketball player, so he hadn’t played football since high school.
“He would say now that he is a football player. He’s transitioned. I’m talking everything from body language to the side of the girth he’s put on, the strength he’s put on over the offseason and how he functions out there as a player.”
The Chiefs kept three tight ends on the active 53-man roster last season, so this will be a hotly contested race when determining the odd men out.
2. The right guard position is fluid, as rookie Zach Fulton and Rishaw Johnson each saw time with the first-team during minicamp and OTAs.
Versatile offensive lineman Jeff Linkenbach also moved along the line, playing right tackle, guard and left tackle. For the most part, J’Marcus Webb played right tackle.
With starting right tackle Donald Stephenson filling in at left tackle for Eric Fisher (shoulder), the constant shuffling gave the Chiefs an opportunity to assess the right side before donning pads in training camp.
“We rotated guys in there,” Reid said. “From a coaching standpoint we were able to get as much of a picture as we could without pads on. It’ll be important to get Eric (Fisher) in there and get him going in training camp and re-acclimating him to playing again. I think when you have him in the mix you have a good group right there.”
The Chiefs finished the 2013 regular season with 10 offensive linemen on the active roster, and currently have 15 before training camp.
In addition to settling on a right guard, the Chiefs need to identify the swing tackle.
3. The cornerback position will likely cause the most angst given the release of Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith running with the second team following an early morning June 9 arrest for an alleged DUI.
Smith missed minicamp with an illness, putting the spotlight on second-year pro Marcus Cooper, who filled in at Smith’s normal right cornerback spot, and fourth-year pro Ron Parker, who manned the left side.
“There’s competition there,” Reid said of the outside cornerback positions, “and we’ll see how all that works.”
Meanwhile, the primary area affected by Flowers’ release is the nickel position, a spot Flowers moved to last year in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme. The nickel battle appears to be between Chris Owens (5-9, 180 pounds) and free safety Malcolm Bronson (5-11, 192 pounds).
Bronson filled the position when Owens missed the final three days of OTAs with a hamstring injury.
The Chiefs have 16 defensive backs, including 10 cornerbacks: Smith, Parker, Cooper, Owens, Phillip Gaines, Vernon Kearney, Justin Rogers, Kevin Rutland, and DeMarcus and David Van Dyke.
At strong safety are Eric Berry, Jerron McMillian and Daniel Sorenson. The free safeties are Husain Abdullah, Sanders Commings and Bronson.
4. There are currently 13 wide receivers on the roster: Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Junior Hemingway, A.J. Jenkins, Kyle Williams, Weston Dressler, Frankie Hammond, Fred Williams, Albert Wilson, Deon Anthony, Darryl Surgent, Jerrell Jackson and recently signed Mark Harrison, who attended minicamp as a tryout player.
Given that group, slot wide receiver offers the Chiefs numerous options to sort through. And that’s before throwing versatile rookie running back De’Anthony Thomas into the mix.
Before missing the final week of OTAs with an illness, Hemingway saw a majority of first-team snaps during 11-on-11 and 9-on-7 drills, and he resumed that role during minicamp.
Dressler, who missed time with a hamstring injury, Wilson and Hammond also saw repetitions working out of the slot. Thomas, who missed OTAs being on Oregon’s academic quarter system, lined up in the backfield and slot during minicamp.
Obviously, the Chiefs aren’t keeping everybody, making the slot receiver competition one of the training camp headline battles.
From a numbers perspective, the Chiefs finished the 2013 regular season with Bowe, Avery, Hemingway, Jenkins and Dexter McCluster, now with the Tennessee Titans, on the active 53-man roster.
Hammond, Kearney and Rashad Ross, now in Washington, filled the final practice squad roster, and Kyle Williams was on injured reserve following November’s ACL surgery.
5. The Chiefs gained a little more than $7 million with the June 13 release of cornerback Brandon Flowers, pushing the team’s current cap space to $9.7 million, according to NFLPA records.
That additional relief could eventually be put to good use as the Chiefs look to extend deals for two key players in the final year of contracts: Quarterback Alex Smith and outside linebacker Justin Houston.
Smith was present for voluntary OTAs and mandatory minicamp, but the same can’t be said of Houston, who missed all OTAs and didn’t attend minicamp.
By missing minicamp without an excused absence, the Chiefs can fine Houston a total of $69,455 in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. While it remains to be seen if Houston shows up for training camp, an unexcused late reporting or absence by a player currently under contract is subject to a $30,000 per day fine.