It’s that glorious time of year once again where football is returning to the scene. The Kansas City Chiefs already have some of the team, mostly the rookies, reported to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, MO. The full team is scheduled to report tomorrow and full practices begin on Thursday this week. Once again, I will be up at camp pretty much daily along with the team and seeing how they develop over the course of the next few weeks. Between last year’s playoff loss to the Titans and this season, there weren’t a lot of headlines made by the Chiefs organization. They traded away Alex Smith which was anticipated, and they also made the surprise decision to trade away Marcus Peters as well. Since those moves occurred in January and February respectively, there hasn’t been much in the way of headlines about Kansas City. So, after a fairly uneventful offseason, the Chiefs head into training camp with a ton of anticipation and excitement over the future with Patrick Mahomes officially taking over as the starter, but not a lot of other premiere questions to be answered. Today I’ll be raising some of those questions to give you an idea of what to be looking for as training camp unfolds over the next few weeks.
- How will Patrick Mahomes adjust to being the full time starter? Obviously, that’s first and foremost on the mind of every Chiefs fan. I think what’s important to remember this season is that, as much as many of us highlighted the limitations of Alex Smith, he did do an amazing job for Kansas City. In his 5 years with the Chiefs, he lead them to 5 consecutive winning seasons, including 4 double digit win seasons and 4 playoff appearances. Say what you will about his shortcomings, you knew what you were going to get when Alex was the QB. Now, Mahomes will have to fill those shoes and he’s got to deal with high expectations. At the end of the day, we’re all going to set bench marks that we want to see Patrick reach this year in terms of statistics, but the thing that he needs to be judged on is how the team performs with him at the helm. He’s got an incredible amount of talent and weapons around him. At the end of the day, the Chiefs need to be in playoff contention this year and how close they come to making the post season again, will ultimately be how Mahomes’ rookie campaign is judged.
- Can Dee Ford stay healthy? If not who takes his place? Dee Ford has been a much maligned player by yours truly over the years. This season, is put up or shut up for the 5th year player out of Auburn. Dee Ford was drafted to replace Tamba Hali, he was unable to do so for the first few years of his career, causing Kansas City to keep Hali around an extra couple of years longer than they intended to do so. Hali is officially out the door now, but the Chiefs have also gone out and drafted other outside linebackers who could easily replace Ford based on his performances. Now, I will say, Ford appeared to be clicking on all cylinders in the first half of the 2016 season, when he registered 10 sacks. However, he sustained an injury late in that season which lingered in to last year, and after a couple of surgeries and rehab stints on his back, Ford does appear to be in tip top shape to begin the 2018 campaign. He knows this is the final year of his contract, and he knows the pressure that’s ahead of him. He reported to camp early to show that he’s ready and waiting to get back on the field. If the Chiefs get the Dee Ford they thought they were getting when they drafted him in 2014, that could be a game changer for this defense which ranked toward the bottom of the NFL in 2017. Whether it is Ford, or rookie Breeland Speaks or 2nd year man Tanoh Kpassagnon the Chiefs must find someone to go opposite Justin Houston and make plays for the defense rushing the passer.
- Who will step up in the secondary with Marcus Peters gone? This is probably the toughest question to answer throughout camp. As part of the Alex Smith trade, the Chiefs acquired Kendall Fuller from the Washington Redskins earlier this year. They also signed former Oakland Raider David Amerson to a contract, and will return Steven Nelson at the corner position. None of those guys however, have shown to be true ball hawks like Peters was when he was in KC. The return of Eric Berry should be able to help some, but ultimately it will come down to which one of those first 3 mentioned can step up. The Chiefs also have to replace veteran safety Ron Parker who was released this year. As of right now, Daniel Sorenson is penciled in as the starter next to Berry at safety. Sorenson is a former undrafted free agent, who has been a nice rotational pience in the Chiefs’ secondary the last couple of seasons and is well liked by coaches. However, fans shouldn’t be overly confident in his ability to keep the position as the Chiefs also drafted Armani Watts and Dorian O’Daniel in the 4th round of the draft this season. Plus Eric Murray is still there in the secondary as well. It’s no secret the secondary was a weakness last year in Kansas City. While the names are not going to jump off the page at anyone this year, they are replace 3 of the 4 starters from a year ago, with only Berry returning. Who emerges as a leader in the secondary will be one of the more fascinating things to watch during camp.
- Who ultimately makes the roster at RB and WR?These positions are the 2 deepest on the Chiefs team as we approach camp this year. At running back you’ve got Kareem Hunt (last season’s NFL rushing leader) and his job security is at the max. However, beyond him, you have last season’s projected starter Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, and newcomers Damien Williams and Kerwynn Williams. That’s one crowded backfield! At least 2 of those guys are probably getting cut, as far as which 2 it will be, that remains to be seen and will be a great training camp storyline. Then you look at wide receiver. Tyreek Hill and newcomer Sammy Watkins lead the group, but behind them you have a lot of unknowns. Demarcus Robinson has shows flashes over the years, Deanthony Thomas is still around as well. Last year’s 4th round selection Jehu Chesson and former 2nd round pick Chris Conley are still part of the squad as well. Then beyond all of them, you have Marcus Kemp, who was a training camp star a year ago, Gehrig Deiter out of Alabama has developed in incredible rapport with Mahomes the last couple of years, and undrafted rookie free agent and former Kansas State Wildcat Byron Pringle. That’s 9 names, 2 of them are guaranteed roster positions. Which leaves 7 guys fighting for 3 roster spots. That competition is going to be very fierce and very interesting to watch over the next few weeks.
Those are just a few of the storylines to look forward to. I’ll of course be keeping you up to date with daily updates from Chiefs Camp in St. Joe! If there’s anyone you want to know about or any updates you need, give me a follow on twitter – @m_c_luckie and also be sure to tune in on Saturday mornings to catch the latest in training camp audio and Chiefs news on Sports Saturday over on 1490 KTOP. Football is back and it’s a beautiful thing.