By now you have heard plenty about the obvious questions coming into training camp:
Justin Houston's health: When will he be ready to take the field? Who will replace him while he's out?
Eric Berry's contract: Will he show up for camp or hold out until the regular season?
The return of Jamaal Charles: Is he still the JC we know and love?
The young CBs attempting to replace Sean Smith: Will Gaines stay healthy and perform as a starter or will it be one of the rookies opposite Marcus Peters?
The backup QB competition: Is it Tyler Bray's job to lose? Will Hogan build off a strong showing in OTAs and win a roster spot? Who is the odd man out?
Where does Jah Reid fit in?
The starters at tackle appear to be set and in good hands with Eric Fisher and newcomer Mitch Schwartz. Who is the first man off the bench in case of injury? Is there a real swing tackle on the roster? Even if the Chiefs are set at tackle, who will emerge as the top guards ... and will they be good enough?
The keys to answering these questions begin with how the Chiefs see Jah Reid. Jah established himself in the league as a guy that could play tackle or guard before coming to KC. He showed some very good ability at guard last season, albeit in a very limited sample. He earned himself a new contract with the Chiefs with his play. Some of us wondered if he would take over as a starter at right guard coming into the 2016 season. However, the guard snaps in OTAs went to guys like Zach Fulton, LDT and parker Ehinger ... Reid was playing tackle with the second team, according to reports from the scene.
If this continues, the Chiefs are paying too much money for Reid to be a backup tackle. Or are they? His three-year, $10.2 million deal puts him right up there with Gosder Cherilus, Andre Smith and Chris Clark all of whom are likely to be third tackles on their respective teams.
Perhaps the plan all along was to have Reid be the swing tackle? If so, are we comfortable with LDT and Ehinger as the starters inside? Will Fulton or Jarrod Pughsley assert themselves in camp? Or will the Chiefs be again sifting through roster cuts and street free agents looking for answers at offensive guard?
Is Steven Nelson one of the biggest keys to the defense?
2015 draft pick Steven Nelson has the look of a guy that can be a difference maker at the nickel cornerback position. This is a position that the Chiefs have really struggled to find the right player. Remember Dunta Robinson? Chris Owens? Ron Parker (when he plays corner)?
With the evolution of NFL passing offenses, the nickel CB should be considered a starter and an important one at that. Having a guy with the short area quickness to disrupt the quick passing game can disrupt the QB's timing. By making them hold the ball a second longer with the first read is covered, the pass rush can get home more often. If the Chiefs have finally found a player who can win in the nickel spot allows the rest of the DBs to do what they do best. Keeping Ron Parker at safety, instead of trying to fill in at nickel, will only help the team defense as we have seen Parker be a very effective safety but a limited corner. If rookies like Russell and White are going to compete with Gaines to be the outside CBs, the nickel is a spot where Nelson can make his impact.
So, watch Steven Nelson in St. Joe and see if he's able to be the No. 1 nickel and thrive.
Who among the other wide receivers will be a factor?
I've been on record as saying the No. 2 receiver isn't really that important in this offense. My logic is as follows: Chiefs offensive targets will flow through Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce, Jeremy Maclin and Spencer Ware before the other traditional receivers. Also, when they do throw to the other receivers, the targets will be spread around, so I wouldn't expect any one of them to put up big numbers. All they need to do is have some skill sets that allow them to contribute to the offense and keep defenses honest.
That being said, when injuries strike (like they did versus New England last year in the playoffs), someone needs to step up and help carry the team and keep the chains moving. Last year, Albert Wilson and Chris Conley were given every opportunity to take the ball and run with it (pun intended), and neither really did more than flash. This year, Chiefs GM John Dorsey and Andy Reid responded by adding Demarcus Robinson, Rod Streater and Mike Williams to compete at WR ... and a wild card in Tyreek Hill. Hill is a former running back that we all assumed was brought in primarily to return kicks and punts. However, reports coming out of OTAs showed he might be a playmaker as a receiver as well.
Will there be any new wrinkles on offense or defense?
Now that the quarterback and head coach have been the same for going on four years, one would expect that the offense would continue to develop and expand. The Chiefs actually hinted at paring back the playbook, at least when it comes to the two-minute offense.
We've seen the Chiefs offense get too vanilla at times, and the criticism of Alex Smith and his propensity to check down and throw the safe pass have been persistent. Is this the year that the offense opens up? We can safely say that it won't be an air raid offense, with a lot of four receiver deep routes and seven step quarterback drops. Wth the continuation of the Maclin / Smith connection, and the speed and athleticism of guys like Chris Conley and Tyreek Hill, could they mix it up a little more this year?
On defense, it begins and ends with the pass rush. When healthy, the Chiefs have one of the fiercest pass rushing fronts in league. When Justin Houston and Tamba Hali have missed time in the past, Bob Sutton's defense to get to the quarterback, and therefore the entire defense struggled. We already know that Houston isn't healthy, though we don't know how long he'll be out. Can others step up to fill the void? Presumably, no one player is going to replace everything you got from Justin Houston. That said, the team can adjust their approach, their personnel and things like blitz packages in order to compensate for their best defensive player's absence.
Beyond just adjusting for the games Houston may miss, the defense has some new young players that could bring new life to Bob Sutton's scheme. Just how they will be deployed, and whether Sutton will introduce some new pressures and looks is yet to be seen.
There will be some new faces and some old faces missing.The Chiefs are far away from their rebuilding days, and it will be interesting to see if both the offense and defense are able to throw anything new at the opposition.