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Offensive position battles to watch during Chiefs training camp

The offense doesn’t have many holes to fill, but there will still be impactful competitions taking place in camp.

NFL: MAY 23 Kansas City Chiefs OTA Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs training camp opened on Tuesday with quarterbacks, rookies and injured players reporting to St. Joseph. There will be closed practices Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning. Veterans report on Friday afternoon and the first public practice is scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Training camp is here! There are still plenty of questions that need to be answered. In case you missed it, be sure to check out the five offensive questions for training camp that Arrowhead Pride lead film analyst Kent Swanson broke down last week.

On Monday, I looked at some of the position battles on the defensive side of the ball. Today we turn our attention to the offense.

Andrew Wylie and Cameron Erving

Competing to be the starting left guard.

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

I’ve previously examined the offensive line’s continuity and how important that is to a team contending for a championship.

The offensive line is currently set at four of the five starting positions. The lone spot up for grabs is left guard.

The incumbent starter at that spot is Cameron Erving — the 2015 first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns. He started the first 13 games of 2018 at left guard before a knee injury held him to limited action the rest of the regular season. He was able to make it back and be on the field for every snap of the playoffs.

Erving is known to have a nasty streak. It doesn’t always show up, but it’s fun to watch when it does. He has enough athleticism to get around on a pull, get downhill and finish the block to the ground — like he does here against Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Vince Williams.

This was one of three solid games Erving had to begin the 2018 season — but unfortunately, his play began to unravel as the season went on. After being called for only two penalties in the first five weeks, he drew 10 flags in his remaining eight regular-season starts — three of them personal fouls. In that span, he allowed 2.63 quarterback pressures per game, compared to just 1.4 the first five weeks.

Erving had offseason shoulder surgery and has not been active during offseason activities, but he should be ready to compete for his spot in camp.

Third-year lineman Andrew Wylie is on his fourth NFL team. He hadn’t made an active roster until last season — and took advantage of the opportunity with the Chiefs. Wylie was needed as a starter at right guard after injuries to veteran Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and backup Jordan Devey. He started there in Week 7 and took every snap through the AFC Championship.

He moves well in space, showing his ability to stay in front of someone and seal off a running lane — like he does here against All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard.

Like any first-time starter, Wylie had his ups and downs. His lowest point came on a Thursday night game at home against the Los Angeles Chargers, in which he allowed four total pressures and earned a very poor PFF pass-blocking grade of 14.4. He bounced back with three consecutive performances worthy of a 76.1 or higher PFF grade — all three a personal career-high. He finished the season allowing just 0.6 pressures per start and committing just three penalties. Wylie was present for all offseason activities.

Prediction: Wylie will emerge from training camp as the starting left guard. Erving just hasn’t been consistent enough physically or mentally to be a reliable starter. But the positive with Erving is that he would become the sixth offensive lineman that can fill in anywhere on the line. A versatile backup with experience in the system is a nice luxury.

Gehrig Dieter, Marcus Kemp, and Cody Thompson

Competing for the sixth wide receiver spot and a special teams role.

Divisional Round - Indianapolis Colts v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This one will be an interesting one to watch.

In my opinion, the first five wide receivers on the depth chart will be Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, rookie Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and second-year undrafted free agent Byron Pringle. The sixth slot seems to be second-year wide receiver Gehrig Dieter’s to lose, but there will be other factors that will go into making the decision.

First, the sixth receiver must be a contributor on special teams. Third-year wide receiver Marcus Kemp played in all 18 games last year and turned in 339 total special teams snaps. Dieter only had 79 snaps in the six games he played and committed two penalties — one more than Kemp had in four times the number of opportunities.

Undrafted free agent rookie Cody Thompson played some special teams at Toledo, and his highlight reel features this blocked punt that he returned for a score.

Although the special teams unit is where this sixth wide receiver will see the majority of his snaps, he still needs to show receiving ability and reliable hands in case of injuries. Kemp and Dieter have combined for five NFL targets, but Dieter’s four came down the stretch of the 2018 season. Thompson was a prolific college receiver. He now holds the record for most career receiving yards and touchdowns in Toledo history, surpassing former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore.

Prediction: Dieter will prevail and be the sixth-string wide receiver. I’m sure special teams coordinator Dave Toub will fight for Kemp, but Dieter’s relationship with franchise quarterback Patrick Mahomes will weigh into this decision, as chemistry is important. Dieter has also been training with Hill all offseason. Just a few days ago, he was seen in a video on Mahomes’ Instagram with all of the starting receivers, running routes with their quarterback. Kemp and Thompson didn’t appear to be present.

Chase Litton and Kyle Shurmur

Competing for the third-string quarterback position and a practice team spot.

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We all know who will be leading the franchise at quarterback for the next decade or more — but Patrick Mahomes’ backup should not be trivialized. Veteran quarterback Chad Henne is that man for this season, but he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2019. Instead of re-signing Henne (or another aging game manager), the Chiefs should hope they see enough in a younger quarterback that they can keep him around as a viable understudy.

Second-year undrafted free agent Chase Litton performed well enough in last year’s training camp to be the third quarterback on the depth chart — although he spent all season on the practice squad. His competition for that spot will be undrafted free agent rookie Kyle Shurmur — the son of New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, who is a product of the Andy Reid coaching tree. Both of these signal-callers are 6 feet 4 or taller and were starters in college for at least three seasons.

Prediction: Litton was impressive for a third-stringer in the 2018 preseason and has the edge over Shurmur in experience. He will be the favorite to keep his role, but I’m sure Shurmur will have plenty of opportunity in camp and preseason games to prove whether or not he is better. Either way, the third quarterback will most likely not be on the active roster; he will be on the Chiefs’ practice squad.

I hope these two articles have given you some insight into training camp’s most interesting position battles. If you’ve ever been to St. Joseph to watch training camp practice at Missouri Western State University, you know it can be tough to follow exactly what is going on.

So here’s a tip: if you make the trip this season, find a position group you’re interested to watch, and watch it carefully. Observe which players are taking the first-team reps and watch how the coaches are working with each individual. The competition between two players competing for the opportunity to live their lifelong dream can be riveting to watch!

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