On Tuesday, the Kansas City Chiefs will open their three-day mandatory minicamp. This next phase of the offseason program differs from the OTA (organized team activities) phase of the last three weeks in two important ways:
- These practices are mandatory
OTAs are voluntary. Veteran players are not required to attend — but most of them show up anyway. In minicamp, every player on the 90-man roster is supposed to be in attendance.
- These practices will all be open to the media
Over the last three weeks, only one OTA session per week has been open to the media, and there has been only one opportunity per week for the media to question coaches and players. Up to now, we’ve only seen glimpses of which players are getting first-team reps, and had limited information about players being held out with injuries.
During minicamp, we should get clearer answers to these five questions:
1. Will the Chiefs comment on Tyreek Hill?
As things stand at this writing, the star wide receiver remains suspended from all team activities as a result of the ongoing investigation of his household surrounding allegations of child abuse and/or neglect. While this team suspension remains in force, Hill will not be participating in the minicamp.
A question remains as to whether the Chiefs will comment on the situation. If they do, what will they say?
Since news broke on Friday that the Johnson County District Attorney’s criminal investigation of the matter is no longer active, there have been calls from some fans for the team to do exactly that — to allow Hill to get back to work.
But Friday’s news may make little actual difference in the situation.
There is no evidence that the reported reopening of the criminal investigation played a role in Hill’s team suspension. In fact, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach announced the suspension just hours after Kansas City television station KCTV released portions of audio recordings reportedly created by Hill’s fiance Crystal Espinal — the night before KCTV reported they had confirmed the investigation had been reopened.
Whether the investigation was ever actually reopened is unclear.
Until Friday — when the Kansas City Star reported that Johnson Country District Attorney Steve Howe had told them the case was not active — Howe had made no direct public statement whether the investigation was open or closed. According to the Star, he declined to say whether it had ever been reopened; Hill’s attorney Trey Pettlon released a statement saying that “obviously there’s been some misinformation about that,” and the investigation had been “closed for some time.”
The KCTV5 recording might not have been strong enough to reopen the criminal investigation — much less result in criminal charges. But whether the NFL will consider it as compelling evidence that Hill engaged in conduct detrimental to the league — which in the past has been enough to warrant a league suspension — is another question.
Under Hill’s team suspension, he cannot participate in any team activities. But the passage of time could work in the Chiefs’ favor.
With each passing day, the private court procedure being conducted by the Kansas Department of Children and Families reaching some kind of resolution becomes more likely, and that would allow the NFL to make its determination about Hill’s status in 2019.
In the meantime, his likely absence from mandatory minicamp will provide other wide receivers more opportunity to get ready for the 2019 season.
Best bet: Hill remains suspended through minicamp, and the Chiefs reevaluate their options before training camp.
How serious is Chris Jones’ holdout?
The star defensive tackle has been absent from all OTA sessions — but in the grand scheme of things, that hasn’t been a big deal. Any player who is in the process of negotiating a big, new contract has a strong incentive to reduce the chance they’ll be injured. For such players, skipping voluntary OTAs is a no-brainer. Coaches may huff and puff about “the players that are here,” but everybody understands how this works: if you’re haggling with the team over a big long-term deal, you’re not going to be participating in OTAs.
But minicamp is a (somewhat) different matter. Players are required to attend. They can be fined if they don’t show up. But in a case like that of Jones, any fines can be waived (or reimbursed) in the language of the new contract; it’s not necessarily a big deal.
Should Jones be present at minicamp, it will be a clear sign that contract negotiations are going well; the two sides are likely to be close to a deal. But if Jones isn’t on hand, it won’t prove the two sides are nowhere close to a deal, either.
Best bet: Jones skips minicamp, and signs a contract before training camp begins in St. Joseph.
How serious is safety Juan Thornhill’s injury?
After Thursday’s OTA session, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said that their second-round draft pick had “tweaked” a calf muscle and had been held out of Thursday’s practice.
Reid offered no information on when Thornhill had suffered the injury. Since the media was not allowed to watch Tuesday and Wednesday sessions, there is no way to know if Thornhill suffered the injury that morning or days before.
In addition, Reid’s use of the word “tweaked” can cover of a wide range of ailments. In fairness to Reid, the press often asks about injuries right after they happen — when he might not yet know how serious they are — but the fact remains that what Reid first called a “tweak” has sometimes ended up being an injury that has kept players out for significant periods of time. And there are plenty of instances where calf injuries have required weeks of recovery.
The good news here that if Thornhill’s injury is serious enough for him to miss all three days of minicamp, there will be lots of time for him to recover fully before training camp begins in July.
Best bet: The Chiefs will take no chances. Thornhill misses minicamp.
What are the Chiefs planning for John Lovett?
The undrafted free agent quarterback from Princeton was used in a variety of ways during his college career. Listed as a tight end on the Chiefs roster, the Chiefs have said they are working him at fullback, too. Then on Thursday, Reid made a reference to something “both” of his fullbacks were doing.
But there’s only one fullback on the Chiefs roster: Anthony Sherman.
Does this mean that Lovett is now seen as more of a fullback than a tight end — perhaps as a way to find a roster spot for him? Or does Reid’s later statement on Thursday — that “If you’re going to play fullback here you’re also going to have to play tight end” — apply to other tight ends besides Lovett? Or are we going to see more use of H-backs — tight ends who line up farther behind the line — in Reid’s 2019 offense?
There’s certainly precedent for fullbacks and tight ends being somewhat interchangeable in Reid’s eyes. Sherman has seen snaps as a tight end when the Chiefs were shorthanded at that position, and tight end Travis Kelce has been used in plays that typically run with fullbacks.
Whatever Reid is planning, we’ll see more examples of it during minicamp — and have a clearer idea about which of the many tight ends on the roster have the best chance to make the team,
Best bet: In 2020 — after Reid’s offense gets production from new variations of H-back formations in 2019 — other teams will start adopting similar concepts.
Does Andrew Wylie have the inside track at left guard?
When Dwayne Bowe caught his ceremonial last pass after retiring from the NFL as a member of the Chiefs, sharp-eyed observers noted in the video of the event that it was Andrew Wylie who was lined up at left guard with the offensive starters.
In a time of year where access to the team’s practices is so limited, such film can be as carefully analyzed as the famous Zapruder film of President Kennedy’s assassination. Did Wylie’s appearance on the play signal that he is now the man to beat at left guard? It seems so—Wylie took reps with the top team at left guard all throughout OTAs.
There’s an argument to be made that Wylie — last season’s Mack Lee Hill award winner as the Chiefs best rookie — does indeed hold the job for now. But it’s far from a settled question — especially with Cam Erving having had offseason shoulder surgery. Three consecutive days of open practices would confirm that Wylie is undoubtedly the man to beat.
Best bet: Wylie gets most of the first-team reps, and has the inside track going to training camp.