I love this time of year. The possibilities are endless, the optimism is starting to rev up (it really reaches its peak at the end of August, when 100% of teams are playoff contenders if you listen to their fans), and we finally get a trickling of football news.
As I discussed when talking about the issues on offense that have my attention, training camp provides a better look at who players are than OTA's because actual contact is permitted. Contact is a big part of football (#analysis), and without gauging how a guy handles it you're basically just figuring out who the best flag football player would be (no disrespect to flag football, which I do love).
There are a few really, really big issues the Chiefs have to figure out on defense before "real" football begins. I'm personally of the opinion that the level of success the Chiefs have this year will hinge a great deal on a couple of very specific questions about the defense. These three in particular are something to watch out for during camp.
Can Chris Jones have an immediate impact?
I had never heard of Chris Jones prior to the Chiefs drafting him (I don't watch any college football whatsoever prior to draft season). After they took him in the 2nd round, I spent a little time reviewing the available snaps on Draft Breakdown.
My initial reaction was "holy crap, that guy is strong." Here's the entire review if you're interested, but a lot of it was essentially me repeating that first reaction over and over again. Chris Jones flashed more raw strength on tape than any player I have ever watched. He would just toss linemen aside, run them over, or stand firm as a double team attempted to move him.
Of course, as we have all heard endlessly, the questions with Jones aren't related to his talent but to his motor / effort. Now, that part of things we cannot observe in training camp, so we will have to wait.
What we CAN look for at training camp is how much of that brute strength is going to transfer to the pro game early on. Considering the ease with which he would often brutalize offensive linemen, I would THINK that Jones will flash early as a guy who can make a difference immediately. That said, it's such a huge leap from college to the NFL. There's no way of knowing until we see him toss some pads on and go to work against guys who have been in the league for a few years.
If we're hearing reports of Jones chucking guys around, even occasionally, that's a good sign that he could make a difference early on (adding to an already very talented defensive line). If we don't hear much, it may be a safe assumption that he'll take the usual year or two to contribute.
Can a 3rd Cornerback Step up?
We all know I'm at the front of the Phillip Gaines fan club. I'm not just driving the bandwagon, I built one of my own. I am perfectly comfortable with Gaines as the number 2 corner for the Chiefs.
The problem is that NFL teams now have a third WR on the field the majority of the time. And for quite some time now, the Chiefs have had a 3rd CB problem.
For the last several years we've seen guys better suited at safety swap into the slot CB role in an effort to staunch the bleeding, but the reality is the Chiefs need a guy to seize that 3rd CB job and play at a solid level if they want the defense to have a shot at "great" (rather than "very good").
Whether it's one of the rookies, Steven Nelson, or whoever, someone needs to step up and win the job for a reason other than "he's the least bad option out there." My hope is that within a couple weeks of camp starting we're hearing how Player X has basically locked down the spot. My fear is that for the entirety of camp and preseason we''ll see multiple guys trotted out there and hear all about the competition. Generally speaking, when you don't know which guy you're picking between a choice of 2-3, that means none of them are a great option.
As that third CB spot goes, so goes the ceiling of the defense.
Is the Justin March Hype Train Legit?
So much has been written about March at this point that I don't really feel the need to add the background. You all know what happened last year, and a lot of people were very disappointed when March got hurt early in the preseason.
The Chiefs have been accepting subpar to average ILB play opposite Derrick Johnson for years, and have also been forced to accept the idea that one of the ILB's is going to be a liability in coverage, forcing substitutions on passing downs and limiting the looks Bob Sutton can throw at offensive coordinators.
If the March hype is real (and I have no idea if it is or not), we could see a whole different side of the defense this year. Having another ILB who can cover adds to the versatility of the defense and gives Sutton another toy to play with. Given the job Sutton has done with what he's had in the past (I'm a fan of his work, I know that's not a universal opinion), I'd be excited to see what he could do with more flexibility in his personnel.
I love this time of year.