The 2015 version of the Kansas City Chiefs training camp schedule kicks off later this month. We'll be doing previews for each position heading into training camp over the next couple of weeks. Today though we start looking at the top Chiefs training camp story lines.
1. The Justin Houston saga
Houston has not signed his franchise tag which means he is technically not under contract. The deadline for a franchise tagged player to sign a long-term deal is July 15. If the two sides don't agree to a long-term deal by then, the contract talks will be tabled until after the 2015 season, per the NFL's rules on the franchise tag.
I am operating under the assumption that a deal will not get done by July 15 and that Houston will skip training camp (because training camp sucks for players). I do not think he will skip the regular season season, although that's been floated by others. I can't figure out what skipping the regular season would accomplish if the NFL rules don't even allow the two sides to sign a long-term deal during that time. Seriously, what's the point? If Houston skipped the first month of the season, he would lose out on more than $3 million, which is more than he's made in his first four years in the NFL. This gives you an idea of the type of money we're talking about. It's hard to turn that down.
2. Figuring out the offensive line
There are position battles at three of the five spots on the offensive line. The locks are LT Eric Fisher and LG Ben Grubbs. We feel good about projecting those two as starters.
From there ... Eric Kush got the offseason reps at center over rookie Mitch Morse ... Jeff Allen seems like the leader at right guard although there's a lot of competition there ... Donald Stephenson is probably the right tackle, barring competition from Jeff Allen or Derek Sherrod or another free agent (remember that a free agent signed off the street last summer beat out Stephenson ... it can happen). The Chiefs have a number of linemen that either I like or are promising enough that it would be difficult to cut them.
3. The No. 2 / 3 WR battle
Too bad Albert Wilson missed a number of OTAs with a hamstring injury. By missing that time it allowed the Chiefs coaches to take a closer look at Chris Conley, who has impressed this offseason. It usually takes receivers in Andy Reid's offense a little bit of time to get acclimated (see Albert Wilson the end of last year) but Conley has caught on quickly. That's really encouraging. It's probably still too early for me to predict Conley will play above Wilson, who had a nice end to his rookie year, but it's clear that Conley will be in the mix somehow this year. The Chiefs also have steady veteran Jason Avant to mix in as well as De'Anthony Thomas who fits in someplace.
4. How Marcus Peters gets on the field
Dee Ford, the Chiefs 2014 first round pick, didn't play much his rookie year. The Chiefs would probably prefer a situation where they could get their first round pick some playing time. For Marcus Peters, I'm not totally clear how he'll get on the field early on. Sean Smith is your No. 1 starter at cornerback while Phillip Gaines looks like the Chiefs breakout player this year. Peters probably isn't playing in the slot. So that leaves him as the fourth corner on the field or filling in for injuries. Note that Gaines has been banged up before in his short career so that whole filling in for injury thing could become useful. Long term, the plan will be for Peters and Gaines to hold it down if Smith leaves via free agency.
(Note: I forgot to mention that Smith is facing a possible suspension to start the season. That's one way Peters would get on the field.)
5. The future of 2 and 3 TE sets
Tight end looked like a strength for the Chiefs last season, especially with their success in two and three tight end sets. Gone is Anthony Fasano, back is Travis Kelce, who is already a star. After Kelce, the tight end situation gets murky.Demetrius Harris has had two foot surgeries since last season. That's certainly a concern, especially if it impacts his ability to participate in training camp. Fifth round rookie James O'Shaughnessy looks like he can contribute but he's still just a rookie from a smaller school so we will learn quite a bit about him during this camp. Richard Gordon has some experience on the team last year. If there's an area where an addition is needed, it might be tight end.
6. Who is the nickel cornerback?
This was Chris Owens' job last year before he got hurt but he's now in Detroit. Phillip Gaines saw a little time there when Peters was on the field this offseason. Steven Nelson was a third round pick and expected to compete there. Tyvon Branch has some experience there. The Chiefs have a number of other candidates. This will shake itself out at camp.
7. The return of DJ and DeVito
They're baaaack. Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito both ruptured their Achilles in Week 1 last year. This led to the Chiefs run defense suffering. All indications are that they're both healthy and ready to contribute this year. It remains to be seen how an Achilles injury will affect two guys on the wrong side of 30. It's a safe assumption that they won't be 100 percent the same player they were before but who knows? The Chiefs run defense, which was a problem last year, is the biggest beneficiary of their return.
8. Finding De'Anthony Thomas' role
The Chiefs say they moved De'Anthony Thomas to wide receiver this year but only because he was listed as a running back last year. I don't think DAT's actual role is going to be changing a whole lot. He's still ultimately the type who will operate in packaged plays and, in my opinion, probably won't develop into the prototypical, every day slot receiver that some of us think of (I'd love to be wrong). I see DAT with another part-time role but a larger one. And that's just fine.
9. Will Jamaal Charles lose a step?
History says he's at that age where he'll start declining. But history also says a running back shouldn't average over five yards per carry for as long as Jamaal has so why are we listening to history?
Charles had several injuries last season which does concern me because it wasn't just one thing -- it was ankles, shoulders, bruises and just generally getting banged up seemingly every week. But if you go back and look at the times Jamaal was actually on the field, he was still extremely effective. So it really comes down to staying healthy and Jamaal is tougher than you probably realize. I'll bet on him for another season.
10. Waiting on Eric Berry news
Eric Berry was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma last year. Since then, we haven't heard much on him other than positive thoughts from the Chiefs. Berry was spotted at a couple of football camps this summer, including his own here in KC. As for Berry returning to the field anytime soon, I don't have any idea and I don't think the Chiefs do either. This is somewhat unprecedented in the NFL so there is no blueprint to follow. Keep hoping and praying for his return.