AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have finished five full-squad camp practices. Here, I'll look at three pleasant developments from the first week of camp. Later today, I'll list some of the top disappointments.
2) Young wide receivers are playing well. The Chiefs may have their best crop of young wide receivers in years. Frankie Hammond Jr. is having a strong camp and could develop into a contributor sometime down the road if not this year. He's fast, is catching everything headed his way and has turned in a number of big plays. Albert Wilson, Jerrell Jackson, Darryl Surgent and Mark Harrison are other players who have shown enough ability that the Chiefs should at least keep them around as developmental players. Veteran Kyle Williams is also having a nice camp and looks capable of helping as a slot receiver. The Chiefs may get no more from starting wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery than they did last season but their backup wide receivers could have a bigger impact.
3) Strong on special teams again. The Chiefs won in the kicking game in many of their games last season and look poised to do so again. In rookie De'Anthony Thomas, the Chiefs have a skilled punt returner to replace the departed Dexter McCluster. Thomas needs work on catching the ball and making good judgments but that will come in time. He's fast and capable of making tacklers miss. Knile Davis should be better as a kickoff returner than he was last season. Dustin Colquitt is one of the league's top punters. Judging by results in camp, the Chiefs can't go wrong in choosing at kicker between veteran Ryan Succop and rookie Cairo Santos.
The Chiefs could go a lot of different directions here. The only certainty is a healthy Smith will start. Daniel, the veteran backup, could be traded if the Chiefs determine that either Bray or their other developmental prospect, Aaron Murray, is ready to be the No. 2. That’s unlikely, so the Chiefs need to determine what to do with Murray. They didn’t draft him to release him, so he could go on the injured reserve list. The Chiefs could also keep four quarterbacks. Whatever they do, the Chiefs should keep Bray, who is too talented to turn loose.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
There’s room for another player here if the Chiefs believe they need to keep two running backs in addition to Charles and Sherman, the fullback. They needed three in last season’s playoff game in Indianapolis. Thomas is listed as a back and has been getting some work as one, but he’s too small to be an every-down player if that’s what the Chiefs require. So Cyrus Gray, a useful special-teams player, could also stick.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
Other than perhaps Bowe, the Chiefs don't have a top-level receiver but they have some interesting roster candidates. Hammond and Williams are among them and each is off to a strong start at training camp.
TIGHT END (3)
Kelce’s troublesome knee could impact the roster decisions here. If his knee remains balky, the Chiefs could keep Richard Gordon.
OFFENSIVE LINE (10)
- Eric Fisher
- Donald Stephenson
- Jeff Allen
- Rishaw Johnson
- Rodney Hudson
- Jeff Linkenbach
- Zach Fulton
- Eric Kush
- Ryan Harris
- Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
One starting tackle, Stephenson, injured an ankle while the other, Fisher, is limited because of a balky shoulder. So the Chiefs may have to keep an extra tackle and Harris could be it. He's getting a long look in training camp.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6)
There’s no need to keep more linemen, not with Poe playing so many snaps and the Chiefs occasionally using only two linemen, and sometimes one.
- Justin Houston
- Tamba Hali
- Derrick Johnson
- Joe Mays
- Dee Ford
- Nico Johnson
- Frank Zombo
- Josh Martin
- James-Michael Johnson
At no other position on defense is the starting lineup so set with Derrick Johnson and Mays on the inside and Houston and Hali on the outside.
For the time being, at least, Cooper and Parker are the starters and Smith, their most accomplished cornerback, is running with the second team.
Commings has yet to practice at training camp because of an injured foot. If he doesn't return soon, the Chiefs may be forced to look for additional help here.
Rookie Cairo Santos has an impressive leg, but it’s difficult seeing the Chiefs going with a rookie kicker instead of the veteran Succop.
There’s plenty of time for Smith to return to the starting lineup. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton held out some hope that it could happen soon.
“He’s not far away," Sutton said. “He’s obviously played a lot of football and played very well for us. We just thought coming out of the spring ... the other guys were a little in front so we went that way as we started camp.
“He’s in the hunt. He’s just got to keep working."
Credit to the Chiefs for benching Smith, despite his considerable salary cap number of $5.75 million, if they didn’t think he was deserving of a starting spot. But in a sense, the Chiefs, at least for the time being, have lost both of their starters from last year at a position where they weren’t deep to begin with.
Flowers was a holdout, which complicated his situation. In a way, he forced the Chiefs to release him by staying away from offseason workouts.
But the Chiefs can’t make these moves in a vacuum. It makes no sense for them to release Flowers if they’re also going to bench Smith.
The Chiefs can afford only so many setbacks at cornerback. They’ve already exceeded their limit. Cooper looked promising for a time last season as a rookie but also played so poorly as the third cornerback for a stretch that the Chiefs had to bench him. Parker is a journeyman.
Smith isn’t a perfect cornerback, but that type of player is few and far between anyway. The Chiefs’ best defensive lineup is with Smith in it, and the sooner they get back to it, the better they will be.
• Coach Andy Reid has said the Chiefs would take some practice snaps away from players who recently had surgery, and tight end Travis Kelce is among them. But taking some snaps away from Kelce is one thing and sitting him for an entire practice is another. Kelce spent his time working with other injured players away from the practice field. This looks to be an ominous sign for a player the Chiefs are counting on to provide a boost in their passing game. Kelce missed all of his rookie season last year with an ailing knee. The Chiefs took a hit at tight end when Sean McGrath, their leading pass receiver at the position last year, abruptly retired. The Chiefs could have survived his loss if Kelce, starter Anthony Fasano and young Demetrius Harris stayed healthy. But if Kelce doesn't get back on the practice field soon, the Chiefs' plans for getting more catches from their tight ends this season may have to be scrapped.
• Another position where depth will be tested is offensive tackle. Donald Stephenson, the starter on the right side, left practice with an ankle injury. Eric Fisher, the starting left tackle, is another one of those players coming off surgery who sits out some drills. When Fisher sat out, the Chiefs patched together an offensive line that featured Ryan Harris, signed on the eve of camp, at left tackle and journeyman J'Marcus Webb at right tackle. The Chiefs also have Jeff Linkenbach, who has played some tackle for the Indianapolis Colts, but he has worked mostly at guard.
• The Chiefs have several candidates to be their slot receiver, so the absence of Junior Hemingway with a sore hamstring is easy to forget. But Hemingway gives the Chiefs something they otherwise lack at the position: a big body. Hemingway, at 6-1 and 225 pounds, is bigger than most nickel backs, and for that reason, he can be a tough cover out of the slot. His first NFL catch last season was a touchdown on a route he ran from the slot. The Chiefs need Hemingway back sooner rather than later.
• Another receiver, Dwayne Bowe, left practice early with what the Chiefs said were cramps. Kyle Williamsand Frankie Hammond Jr. took advantage of their absence. Williams caught several catches, while Hammond had the play of the day. He caught a pass over the middle and then weaved his way through several defenders for the touchdown.
• A two-play sequence captured the essence of developmental quarterback Tyler Bray. On the first play, Bray threw one of those what-was-he-thinking passes that went straight to linebacker Dezman Moses, who made the interception. On the next, Bray threw a beautiful deep fade that wide receiver Darryl Surgent caught in the end zone.
- There was a sense of gloom as safety Eric Berry headed into the sideline medical tent toward the end of practice. Turned out Berry only has a dislocated finger, which appears to be the small finger on his right hand. Berry may miss a few days of practice or none at all. Either way, it’s not a long-term injury. Still, the scare they received when Berry headed off the practice field highlights just how little depth the Chiefs have at safety. They already moved one of last season’s backups, Husain Abdullah, into the starting lineup next to Berry. Backup Sanders Commings has yet to practice because of a strained foot and missed most of his rookie season last year with a variety of injuries. Otherwise, the other safeties are those cast off by other teams or developmental prospects. The Chiefs must keep their eye on the waiver wire over the next few weeks in search of a safety capable of helping out. Junior Hemingway, one of the top slot receiver candidates, left practice early with a sore hamstring.
- The Chiefs worked in pads for the first time at training camp. They did little in the way of live tackling, but nickel back Chris Owens had the hit of the day when he sent running back Knile Davis flying at the end of a run. “The execution went back and forth [between] the offense and the defense,’’ coach Andy Reid said. “There were some good snaps both ways and that’s what you’re looking for. We had some good competition.’’
- Starting cornerback Sean Smith continues to work with the second team. Smith was a starter last season but for the time being, at least, he’s behind Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker. The Chiefs are gambling if they go into the season with Cooper, who struggled at times last year as a rookie, and Parker, a journeyman. They need Smith’s ability and experience. “We look at Sean as a first-team player,’’ Reid said. “We need all those guys. We need two deep at the corner where we feel like that two deep is equivalent to starting players.’’ Reid indicated Smith’s demotion had nothing to do with his recent arrest for DUI. “That’s a football [decision],’’ he said.
- Reid said tight end Sean McGrath is indeed retiring. McGrath led an injury-depleted group of Chiefs’ tight ends in catches last season with 26. But the Chiefs are counting on a full season from starter Anthony Fasano and young backups Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris so McGrath might not have made the team anyway. But the Chiefs now lack a capable reserve in case of injury to one of the other three.
- The Chiefs are rotating Rishaw Johnson and rookie Zach Fulton at right guard in their effort to identify a starter. Both players are interesting candidates. Johnson showed well in his only start last season while Fulton has proved to be advanced for a sixth-round pick.
It's difficult to argue with that strategy. The Chiefs have surrounded Charles with a decent cast of complementary players but they have no one else with his proven record of productivity.
The main backup for Charles is Knile Davis, who when it comes to raw ability has as much as anyone the Chiefs have, Charles included. At 227 pounds, Davis is a bigger, stronger runner than Charles and is every bit as fast.
Davis has come a long way since he joined the Chiefs as a rookie last year but he's still unpolished. He's particularly rough in the passing game, where his skills as a receiver and blocker lag far behind those of Charles. As offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said, "This will be a big camp for him."
With a strong showing at camp, Davis could convince the Chiefs he deserves more playing time. The Chiefs have fiddled with some formations that include both Charles and Davis.
But as far as diminished playing time for Charles, nothing short of injury will make that happen.
"He may not get more touches," Pederson said of Davis. "He may get more plays. We just pick our spots. There are certain plays for Knile and certain plays for Jamaal. Sometimes it's a feel thing: 'Hey, let's get Jamaal [a rest for a play or two] and then get him back in the game.'"
- The Chiefs had both of their top running backs, Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, in the lineup on the first play of practice. While the Chiefs might not use a formation featuring both players often, they might go that way on occasion. The Chiefs need to find a way to get more from Davis, who at 227 pounds is much bigger than Charles but also might be as fast. One thing the Chiefs don't appear ready to do is provide more relief to Charles, their best offensive player. "When it's in the heat of the battle and it's kind of crunch time, you want your [best players] on the field,'' offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. "That's the bottom line. Jamaal is a part of that and he's going to be on the football field regardless of how many touches he's had early in the game or how many plays he has leading up to that point.''
- Dropped passes haven't been a particular problem for the Chiefs at camp, but their receivers had a rough stretch when Anthony Fasano and A.J. Jenkins each had drops on back-to-back plays. Those mistakes usually hurt the Chiefs more than their opponents. Counting the playoff game, the Chiefs had 19 fewer pass plays of 20 or more yards, so they need to be more efficient than their opponents if that happens again this season.
- Another thing that would help the passing game would be a return to form by their No. 1 wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe. Encouraged by the arrival of coach Andy Reid in Kansas City, Bowe last year famously predicted he would lead the NFL in receiving. He responded with what was the worst full statistical season of his career. Bowe isn't making any such bold proclamations this year. "I just shoot every day to be the best person I can be and just make it contagious,'' Bowe said. "I just hope everybody else can tag along and we can put some wins together.''
- Last season's backup deep snapper was Sean McGrath, who is not in camp and contemplating retirement. The Chiefs are trying to develop tight end Travis Kelce into the backup snapper for Thomas Gafford, but the project isn't going so well. Kelce gave punter Dustin Colquitt a workout with his snaps, sending one well to each side of Colquitt and sailing a couple over his head. "He'll get there,'' Colquitt said. "He's athletic and that's what it takes.''
- The Chiefs spent much of the practice working on special teams or with the offense working on one field and the defense on the other. Things should get more interesting in Saturday's practice. The Chiefs will work for the first time at camp in full pads.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- We've already established just how much the Kansas City Chiefs need running back Jamaal Charles and how important he is for their aspirations this season.
That part isn't the surprise. Anyone who watched the Chiefs play in 2013 realized his worth to his team.
You probably don't realize the other part of this -- just how much a holdout would have hurt Charles. It would have hurt Charles plenty, perhaps as much as his absence would have hurt the Chiefs.
Charles cares about giving the Chiefs their money's worth. He cares about what his peers think. He cares what you think.
It's important to Charles to leave an imprint on the game that will last for years. He's well on his way toward doing that. Many backs have had a season or two as good as the ones Charles has put together in recent years.
Few have had as many as Charles. Playing in coach Andy Reid's offense for the Chiefs, Charles has a great opportunity to enhance his legacy, but that would be impossible for him to do if he's sitting out in a pay dispute.
So if you think the Chiefs were relieved to see Charles take the practice field as they opened training camp Thursday, know that the feeling was mutual.
"I didn't want to hold out," Charles said. "That's not my place. I couldn't do it. I just wanted to get the deal done. I could have held out and gotten [more money]. I'm just happy with what I have for right now. ... I didn't want to even be selfish like that. That's not my personality."
Charles joined the Chiefs at camp a couple of hours after the reporting deadline on Wednesday, after the sides had reached agreement on the contract extension. He felt ashamed enough about a holdout even that brief that he took to Twitter with the joke he had been late because his car broke down on the way from Kansas City to St. Joseph.
So while the Chiefs needed Charles, the opposite is just as true. And had the Chiefs held firm for just a few days and held back their offer of new money, Charles might have caved first.
"I couldn't [hold out]," he said. "I wanted to do it but it's just not me. I'm not a cocky player. I'm not one of the players [who does] that to his team. I've always been a team player my whole time here. I was ready to get the deal done and move forward."
Play of the day: Rookie seventh-round draft choice Tevin Reese shook loose on a double move for a 40-yard touchdown against cornerback Brandon Ghee on a pass from backup quarterback Kellen Clemens. The play capped a solid day for Reese, who ran crisp routes and caught the ball well during 1-on-1 drills.
Position watch – Quarterback: Philip Rivers said he liked the tempo the offense played at on Thursday, running plays and in and out of drills at a quick pace.
Rivers said one of the differences from last year to this year is players know and understand what to expect in practice and the meeting room, now that the team is in the second season with head coach Mike McCoy.
“We really practiced fast,” Rivers said. “We had some mistakes. But those things will get ironed out as we progress.”
Injury report: Offensive guard Jeromey Clary (shoulder, hip) remains on the active, physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Clary’s replacement, Johnnie Troutman, had to leave the field toward the end of practice with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. Troutman was replaced by rookie Chris Watt at right guard. Troutman later returned to practice.
Up next: The Chargers practice at 2:50 p.m. on Friday, and hold their first padded practice on Saturday at 9:20 a.m. Both practices will take place at Chargers Park, and are open to the public.
You don’t say: “It feels great. But it’s early. I think that this is one of those injuries that time is going to tell. It’s going to be interesting to see how fatigue affects it. But right now, it feels great.” -- Chargers outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, discussing his return to the field as a full participant after suffering a torn quad that ended his 2013 season. Freeney looked explosive rushing the passer in team drills.
Coach’s corner: The Chargers had a handful of drops on Thursday in both team and 7-on-7 drills. McCoy chalked that up to nerves from the opening of training camp, and expects that area to improve over the next couple of days.
“We talked about that after practice, that we had too many dropped balls,” McCoy said. “It wasn’t just one position. There were a number of different guys doing it, whether it was in individual period or team period, 7-on-7 – things like that. So that’s something we’ve got to clean up.”
It seems like a football eon ago that then-Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels sized up the potential AFC West race and called the San Diego Chargers “kind of the measuring stick.”
That statement came before the 2010 season as the Chargers had won the previous four division titles. It’s also right about the time the winds of change began to roar in earnest in the division, when the foundation was set for what has happened since.
The Kansas City Chiefs won the division in '10. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen fired McDaniels after a 4-12 season marred by Spygate and hired John Elway as the Broncos’ top football executive.
Since then, the Broncos have won three consecutive division titles, one featuring the national phenomenon that was a Tim Tebow-led read-option offense, and two with future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. And the Broncos' crushing February Super Bowl loss notwithstanding, they are coming off a record-setting 2013 with Manning returning and a free-agency haul that included pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos are poised to be in the league’s championship conversation again.
The Chiefs think they are ready for more, the Chargers were the only team in the division to beat the Broncos last season, and the Oakland Raiders, after a flurry of offseason moves, believe -- at least LaMarr Woodley believes -- they can be a playoff team.
NFL Nation reporters Jeff Legwold (Broncos), Eric D. Williams (Chargers), Adam Teicher (Chiefs) and Paul Gutierrez (Raiders) look at how the AFC West division race will shake out this season.
What will the Broncos' record be and why?
Jeff Legwold: Look at the Broncos' depth chart, and on paper -- yes, the dreaded "on paper" distinction -- they are better than they were when they finished 13-3 and played their way into Super Bowl XLVIII last season. After the crushing loss in the title game, they didn't go quietly into the offseason. They put together a solid draft class with two potential immediate contributors in cornerback Bradley Roby and wide receiver Cody Latimer. They were also one of the most aggressive teams in free agency, reeling in Ware, Talib, Ward and Sanders. If Ware and Talib, in particular stay healthy (Talib has never played 16 games in a season), Denver's defense will be vastly improved alongside a record-breaking offense that figures to again pile up points. The Broncos finished with five defensive starters on injured reserve last season, and many of the players who were starting on defense down the stretch will be backups this season. Their trek through the NFC West to go with road games against the Patriots, Jets and Bengals gives them a potentially brutal schedule. They could be better than they were last season and not have the record to show for it. That is why 12-4 would be a quality piece of work.
Adam Teicher: 12-4. It's a bit much to expect the Broncos to match their 13-3 record of last season. A schedule that includes two games against the Chiefs and Chargers and singles against all teams from the NFC West plus New England, Indianapolis and Cincinnati almost guarantees that Denver won't get to 13 wins. But a slightly diminished regular-season record doesn't mean the Broncos won't win the AFC or play in the Super Bowl again. From this vantage point, it's an upset if any team but the Broncos represents the AFC in the Super Bowl this season.
Paul Gutierrez: Sure, no one takes a Super Bowl beating like the Denver Broncos, whose five losses on Super Sunday are by a combined score of 206-58. But in the modern world of the rich getting richer, the defending AFC champs simply got better. Adding a trio of big-name free agents in Ware, Talib and Ward will only make the defense more sound. And the addition of Sanders, who will replace the departed Eric Decker, should help the Broncos' record-setting offense continue to hum along under the direction of Manning. The Broncos are primed for another division title with a 12-4 record, with tough games at Kansas City, at San Diego (the Chargers won in Denver last season), at New England (the Patriots won in OT last season) and at Seattle (remember that 43-8 pasting the Seahawks put on the Broncos in the Super Bowl?).
What will the Chiefs' record be and why?
Legwold: There is an air about this team; the Chiefs seem comfortable with where the roster was at the end of the 2013 season going into 2014. They were not all that active in free agency, though they took some swings at a wide receiver or two, including Emmanuel Sanders. If they are the team that went 9-0 before the bye last season, then standing pat is just fine, but if they are the group that went 2-5 down the stretch, then they are not catching the Broncos. They have shuffled the offensive line and seem likely to lean on running back Jamaal Charles again on offense, but they lack pop on the outside, especially if receiver A.J. Jenkins can't lift his game. The defense is solid in the front seven, but in a division with quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, cornerback Brandon Flowers' release might be the move that eventually stings the most, especially if young cornerback Marcus Cooper, a player Manning targeted repeatedly last season, is not up to the challenge. It all has the look of a step back from last season's 11-5 to 9-7 with the NFC West on everybody's schedule in the division.
Teicher: 8-8. Kansas City faltered down the stretch last season, winning two of its final eight games. The Chiefs then watched several significant regulars leave through free agency. The Chiefs have holes at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield that they failed to adequately address. That doesn't mean they won't be playoff contenders. Despite the lousy record, the Chiefs quietly finished last season as one of the NFL's better offensive teams. They might be able to score enough points to overcome a shaky defense that couldn't hold a 28-point lead in last season's playoff loss against Indianapolis.
Gutierrez: Are the Kansas City Chiefs the team that made history by becoming the first in NFL modern annals to follow up a two-victory season by winning its first nine games the following season, or are they the club that lost six of its last eight, including a heartbreaking 45-44 wild-card loss to the Indianapolis Colts? Momentum being what it is, and with the Chiefs having a so-so draft coupled with departures of the likes of Albert, defensive end Tyson Jackson and receiver/returner Dexter McCluster, plus a tough schedule, they seem to be on the way back down. As in a 7-9 record. Tough stretches that include games at Denver, against New England, at San Francisco and at San Diego early, and against Seattle, at Oakland, against Denver, at Arizona and at Pittsburgh late will truly tell the Chiefs' tale, even as Charles continues his ascent as one of the game's best all-around backs.
@adamteicher 9-7 would be a great accomplishment. Schedule is nails, but if OL gels and backend D is in place, it's doable. O will score— Lou Montagna (@LouMontagna) July 21, 2014
What will the Chargers' record be and why?
Legwold: In his first year as Chargers coach, Mike McCoy helped get quarterback Philip Rivers back on track -- though Rivers never really conceded to being off track -- and the Chargers were able to fight through injuries, hand the Broncos their only home loss of the season, and earn a playoff spot. McCoy figures to try to keep Rivers cocooned in a low-risk approach on offense -- their leading receivers in terms of catches last season were a tight end (Antonio Gates) and a running back (Danny Woodhead) -- with a heavy dose of starting running back Ryan Mathews if he can stay healthy. Defensively, new cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers should help the secondary. As they continue their makeover in the second year of the current regime, most personnel people in the league believe the Chargers are still lacking enough athleticism, especially on defense, to make a significant push in the division race. Add up four games against the NFC West to go with New England and Baltimore and it looks like a 7-9 campaign.
Teicher: 8-8. The Chargers might be the division's most interesting team. San Diego is the team most capable of catching the first-place Broncos, but also has the best chance of getting caught by the last-place Raiders. If Rivers plays as well as he did last season, it's not out of the question that San Diego wins the AFC West. Like Denver, San Diego might have a better team than it did last season. Signing Flowers filled a big need. But a tougher schedule will keep the Chargers out of the playoffs this time.
Gutierrez: San Diego, under a rookie head coach in the offensive-minded Mike McCoy, won four straight games to end the regular season and sneak into the playoffs at 9-7, and another 9-7 campaign seems to be in the works, even if the Chargers look to be better in 2014. Some of McCoy's moves did have many fans scratching their heads, but there is no debating he was instrumental in Rivers' NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award-winning season. The Chargers added bruising running back Donald Brown to join lightning-quick Ryan Mathews and are excited to see what their receiving corps, highlighted by second-year wideout Keenan Allen, can do if Malcom Floyd is healthy. No, it's not the halcyon and high-flying days of Air Coryell, but with tough games at Arizona, Oakland, Denver, Baltimore and San Francisco, and with New England coming to San Diego, the Chargers will take it.
@eric_d_williams 11-5 & make the playoffs if we stay healthy, 9-7 & miss the playoffs if we don't. And we'll beat Denver.— Shea Duggan (@SDsportskid86) July 22, 2014
What will the Raiders' record be and why?
Legwold: Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has the look of a potential foundation player in the Raiders defense. If things go as the Raiders hope, he should be in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year because he's going to get plenty of snaps. But overall this team has put its immediate fate in the hands of veterans with far less of their career in front of them than in their past, led by quarterback Matt Schaub. Raiders coach Dennis Allen keeps saying Schaub is a top-10 passer in the league, but Schaub has always seemed to lack that kind of confidence in himself. But front-seven additions LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew are certainly risk-reward moves the Raiders need to work. Tuck is 30, Woodley is 29 and Jones-Drew, who has missed 11 games combined in the past two seasons, just turned 29. The depth chart is still thin, particularly on defense, and an injury or two will have a ripple effect. The schedule's second half also includes two games against the Broncos, two against the Chiefs, and games against the 49ers and the Rams. It all looks like a potential 5-11.
Teicher: 6-10. The days of hopeless desperation are coming to an end in Oakland. The Raiders won't be the pushovers they were last season. But they are still not ready to compete with their AFC West rivals. Schaub won't be the answer at quarterback. Instead, he will be another in a long line of failures. Going to rookie quarterback Derek Carr won't solve their problems, at least not this season. By 2015, the Raiders will be a factor in the AFC West race. But despite a major free-agent spending spree, they will still drag the bottom in 2014.
Gutierrez: In the immediate aftermath of the NFL schedule being released back in April, I saw a 5-11 season for the Raiders. Now, after the draft, organized team activities and minicamps? I'll go 6-10. Doesn't sound all that impressive, I know, but it would, technically, be improvement for third-year coach Dennis Allen after consecutive 4-12 seasons. Yes, the Raiders did rebuild both lines with talent and, on the defensive side of the ball, championship pedigree. And they are going with a new quarterback in the battle-tested Schaub. Plus, the veterans Oakland brought in via free agency all have chips on their shoulders. Truly, this is the most talent Allen has had at his disposal. Still, Oakland has the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL, and until it proves differently, it's hard to imagine the Raiders winning more than six games. Where might they scratch out six victories? Let's start with home games against Houston, Miami (in London), San Diego, Arizona, Kansas City and Buffalo and go from there.
@PGutierrezESPN 8-8 because they have a tough schedule and with the talent they have will improve a bit..DA gets fired & Gruden in 2015— AK (@AaronK510) July 21, 2014
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs selected a running back in each of the past two drafts. They have one of the league’s highest paid wide receivers. They are hopeful a healthy collection of tight ends can make a difference in their passing game.
But no matter how they looked at it, the Chiefs would have felt the absence of running back Jamaal Charles.
And it would have hurt.
The Chiefs avoided that football calamity shortly after Wednesday’s reporting deadline for training camp at Missouri Western State University, agreeing to a contract extension with Charles, their most valuable player and their offensive engine.
“Jamaal is a third of their offense,’’ former Chiefs head coach and ESPN analyst Herm Edwards said. “He’s an explosive player. He’s going to generate points and he’s so difficult to defend because he’s multi-dimensional. They have nobody else capable of doing that.’’
Charles accounted for 35.8 percent of the Chiefs’ yards from scrimmage last season, the highest total in the league.
He was their leader in rushing (1,287 yards), receiving (70 catches for 693 yards) and touchdowns (12 rushing, seven receiving), the player the Chiefs leaned on week in and week out.
The Chiefs would have plugged a body into his spot, but they would have struggled to get half of Charles’ production from any one source. They drafted Knile Davis in the third round in 2013 but Davis averaged 3.5 yards per carry, or 1.5 yards fewer than Charles. He struggled as a pass-receiver and a pass-blocker.
“Davis can run the ball,’’ said Edwards, the Chiefs’ coach when they drafted Charles in the third round in 2008, “but he’s not Jamaal Charles.’’
The Chiefs this year drafted the fast but diminutive De’Anthony Thomas from Oregon in the fourth round. The Chiefs have looked at Thomas as a back and in a variety of other roles, but he’s still a rookie and an unproven commodity.
He’s also 5-foot-9, 174 pounds, and at that size unlikely to be a consistent threat for the Chiefs.
“Thomas is explosive and you can give him the ball a bunch of different ways,’’ Edwards said. “But he’s not an every-down player. He’s just not big enough.’’
The Chiefs had one of the least productive groups of wide receivers in the league last season and failed to add much in the way of proven help. They are hopeful of a bounce-back season from wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who had the worst full statistical season of his career in 2013 after signing a five-year, $56 million contract. But Bowe will turn 30 in September, so a return to form may be wishful thinking on the part of the Chiefs.
The Chiefs are healthy, for now at least, at tight end after injuries ravaged them at the position last year. But, again, they’re counting on big seasons from unproven players Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris.
Despite their efforts to fortify themselves on offense to the point they can survive without Charles, the fact is the Chiefs aren’t there yet. They can’t survive without him, a fact that soon would have been hammered home had they not moved Wednesday to get Charles into camp.
It's wise not to overlook Williams as the Chiefs search for McCluster's replacement. He's fast and has more career NFL catches, 47 in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, than all of the other main candidates combined.
There's a reason the Chiefs claimed Williams off waivers last November and a reason they re-signed him as a free agent in the spring. They wanted to get a look at Williams in Andy Reid's offensive system.
The Chiefs didn't get much of a chance to do that last year. He played in only one game for them before re-injuring the knee.
"It looked like I was going to have some serious game-plan activity last year when I got here," Williams said. "But crazy things happen. The thing about it is that they gave me their word they wanted me back and they followed through on that."
Williams completed a quick rehab after having surgery in December and appears ready to compete for a job when full-squad training camp begins on Thursday.
"The knee feels good," Williams said. "It feels stable. It feels like a solid knee. I feel like myself out there. I felt like last year when I came in I could help. I feel the same way this year."
The Chiefs could go a lot of different directions here. The only certainty is a healthy Smith will start. Daniel, the veteran backup, could be traded if the Chiefs determine that either Bray or their other developmental prospect, Aaron Murray, is ready to be the No. 2. That’s unlikely, so the Chiefs need to determine what to do with Murray. They didn’t draft him to release him, so he could go on the injured reserve list. The Chiefs could also keep four quarterbacks.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
There’s room for another player here if the Chiefs believe they need to keep two running backs in addition to Charles and Sherman, the fullback. They needed three in last season’s playoff game in Indianapolis. Thomas is listed as a back and might get some work as one, but he’s too small to be an every-down player if that’s what the Chiefs require. So Cyrus Gray, a useful special-teams player, or Joe McKnight could also stick.
WIDE RECEIVER (5)
Other receivers will have ample opportunity to make the team, because the Chiefs have a need. But they won’t keep another receiver without that player earning the spot.
TIGHT END (3)
Kelce’s troublesome knee could impact the roster decisions here. If his knee remains balky, the Chiefs could keep Sean McGrath.
OFFENSIVE LINE (10)
- Eric Fisher
- Donald Stephenson
- Jeff Allen
- Rishaw Johnson
- Rodney Hudson
- Jeff Linkenbach
- Zach Fulton
- Eric Kush
- Rokevious Watkins
- Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
The Chiefs will, pardon the pun, go heavy here. Andy Reid likes to stash some developmental linemen.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6)
There’s no need to keep more, not with Poe playing so many snaps and the Chiefs occasionally using only two linemen, and sometimes one.
- Justin Houston
- Tamba Hali
- Derrick Johnson
- Joe Mays
- Dee Ford
- Nico Johnson
- Frank Zombo
- Josh Martin
- Dezman Moses
- James-Michael Johnson
This assumes that Houston returns to the Chiefs in time for the start of the regular season. If not, the Chiefs will need another body.
A position of importance is an area of concern. Only Smith, a starter, and Owens, a nickelback, are proven.
Abdullah has more experience at free safety, but the Chiefs might be better served by going with the bigger Commings as their starter.
Cairo Santos has an impressive leg, but it’s difficult seeing the Chiefs going with a rookie kicker instead of the veteran Succop.
NFL Nation reporter Adam Teicher examines the three biggest issues facing the Kansas City Chiefs heading into training camp.
Where is Houston? Having outperformed the contract he signed with the Chiefs as a third-round draft pick in 2011, outside linebacker Justin Houston was absent for all the offseason practices, including the mandatory minicamp. Since Houston’s only leverage for getting a contract extension this year is to stay away from camp until he gets it, it's unlikely he will show without a new deal. That would be a tough blow for the Chiefs. Houston is their top proven pass-rusher and arguably their best all-around defensive player. The pass rush, which was on a record pace for sacks over the first half of last season, sagged measurably after a dislocated elbow caused him to miss the final five regular-season games. The Chiefs would not be left without quality edge pass-rushers. Veteran Tamba Hali, another Pro Bowler, is on the other side, and the Chiefs drafted Auburn’s Dee Ford in the first round. Ford looked promising as a pass-rusher during offseason practice, but it’s a bit much to expect him to immediately be as versatile as Houston. Ford was a defensive end in college and has much to learn before he is on Houston’s level.
Who is at corner? The Chiefs released Brandon Flowers last month, leaving them perilously thin at cornerback. With the exception of 5-foot-9 nickelback Chris Owens, all their remaining cornerbacks are big and capable of getting physical with opposing receivers, as the Chiefs prefer. But the quality is a concern. Veteran Sean Smith steps in as the top cornerback, and he held his own as a starter last season. Marcus Cooper will at least begin camp as the other starter. As a rookie, he played well for the first half of last season as the third cornerback, but his play tailed off badly in the second half, to the point that the Chiefs benched him. Cooper has the physical tools to be a decent starter, but he showed over the final few games of last season that he has a lot to learn. The Chiefs drafted Phillip Gaines of Rice in the third round this year, but during offseason practice it didn’t look like he was ready to contribute. Journeyman Ron Parker played well in his one start last season. But he got a lot of playing time during the offseason and was often exposed.
A rebound for Bowe? In September, Dwayne Bowe turns 30, an ominous age for a wide receiver because that is when many begin to lose their skills. That process might already have started for Bowe, who had the worst full statistical season of his career in 2013. Still, Bowe represents the Chiefs’ most realistic hope for improvement at what was largely an unproductive position last season. The Chiefs added former Canadian League star Weston Dressler and drafted speedy De'Anthony Thomas in the fourth round, but they are slot receivers and are merely trying to replace the production lost with the free-agent departure of Dexter McCluster. Otherwise, the Chiefs will go with the same uninspiring cast of receivers as last season, meaning Bowe needs to get back to what he was earlier in his career. That is not an unreasonable expectation. Bowe was never particularly fast, so he doesn’t have a lot of speed to lose. The Chiefs need to do a better job of playing to his strengths, the main one being his ability to find yards after the catch. The Chiefs should get back to the bubble screens that were so productive for Bowe earlier in his career.
The only surprise was that Houston wasn’t higher on the list. A Pro Bowler in two of his first three NFL seasons, Houston has become one of the league’s best pass-rushers and all-around defensive players. He has 26.5 sacks in his past 32 games, and PFF gave him a higher rating last season than any other outside linebacker playing in a 3-4 system.
For this, the Chiefs are scheduled to pay Houston about $1.4 million this season. No wonder he stayed away from offseason practice, including a mandatory three-day minicamp.
Houston wants to get paid and he wants his money now. The Chiefs should accommodate him.
Houston has clearly outperformed the contract he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2011. Normally, it’s not a good idea to spend sympathy on players who no longer like the terms of the contract they once signed, but Houston doesn’t fall into that category. As a middle-round draft pick three years ago, he had little choice but to accept whatever the Chiefs were offering.
Another bad idea is to pay players based on past performance. The Chiefs have done that too many times over the years and been burned. The latest episode happened last year, when one of John Dorsey’s first moves after joining the Chiefs as general manager was to give wide receiver Dwayne Bowe a five-year contract worth about $11 million a season.
Houston is 25. Giving him a contract that makes him happy has plenty of benefit for the Chiefs as well. They would be locking up their best pass-rusher and, perhaps, their best defensive player for the foreseeable future.
Is there something about this strategy that doesn’t make sense? Is it ever a bad idea to secure a good, young player for the long term at today’s prices?
The Chiefs would occasionally go wrong with this plan. But there is nothing about Houston’s first three years with the Chiefs, on or off the field, that would suggest it would go wrong with him. He dropped to the third round of the draft in 2011 for allegedly testing positive for marijuana at the scouting combine that year, but there have been no suggestions he’s been anything but a positive for the Chiefs ever since.
Houston won’t come at a bargain price. Green Bay’s Clay Matthews is the highest-paid outside linebacker in the league based on average salary at about $13.2 million. Houston’s Kansas City teammate, Tamba Hali, is next at about $11.5 million.
Numbers in that neighborhood shouldn’t scare the Chiefs. Pass-rusher isn’t a bad spot to hold such a heavy investment, one that now for the Chiefs also includes their first-round draft pick, Dee Ford.
The Chiefs drafted Ford in part as insurance for Houston’s holdout. Ford showed promise as a pass-rusher during offseason practice and could possibly do a reasonable imitation of Houston as a rookie.
Even so, there is no way the Chiefs are a better team with Houston off doing his own thing instead of playing for them. But this shouldn’t be about the immediate future, anyway. The Chiefs would pay Houston for his presence over the longer term, and that is when his deal really makes sense.
Hali turns 31 in November. He has yet to show any signs that his skills or production have begun their inevitable decline.
His price nonetheless goes up next year. He costs the Chiefs almost $11.5 million against their salary cap this season and a little less than $12 million in 2015. Having a tandem of Houston and Ford gives the Chiefs the flexibility to move Hali next year, if they feel it’s necessary, and still carry on with a couple of premier pass-rushers.
It’s always easy to spend someone else’s money. From this corner, though, we’ve generally preached fiscal sanity when it comes to that of Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt. You heard it here months ago that the Chiefs should let offensive tackle Branden Albert walk (they listened). You heard no panic from these parts when, in rapid succession during the opening moments of free agency, they lost Albert, guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah, receiver/kick returner Dexter McCluster and defensive end Tyson Jackson.
Each one of those players was worth more to his new team than to the Chiefs. They would have been foolish to pay premium prices for any of them.
That is not the case with Houston. They passed on re-signing any of their five prominent free agents so they could save to spend on what’s really important.
If that’s not Justin Houston, what is?