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Chiefs training camp notebook: Khalen Saunders’ words add intrigue to Chris Jones saga

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The Chiefs rookie defensive tackle says that the veteran has been in contact with him through social media, helping him lose weight and get ready for the season.

NFL: MAR 02 Scouting Combine Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A little more than 24 hours before Kansas City Chiefs veteran defensive tackle Chris Jones was due to arrive at training camp in St. Joseph, rookie Khalen Saunders, who will presumably be working very closely with Jones if all goes right over the next week, was asked if he was ready to step in as a starter if the opportunity were to present itself.

Saunders steered the conversation in an entirely different direction.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Me and Chris talk a little bit over social media and text. He helps me a lot even when he’s not here — he’s helped me with my nutrition and diet because he himself is losing a little bit of weight as well.”

Jones hasn’t been with the team since offseason workouts began, choosing to skip the 10 voluntary organized team activities (OTA) sessions and three days of mandatory minicamp as he seeks a new contract.

The videos of Jones’ personal training sessions have shown him (and I’ll submit — this is a guess) looking a little more like 290 than his listed weight of 310. Interestingly enough, Saunders said he has lost 10 to 15 pounds from his listed weight of 324 — putting him at approximately 312 pounds — which is near Jones’ listed weight.

“I’m comfortable right now,” he said. “[The Chiefs] obviously give you a report weight and I was within the report weight, but I’m very comfortable. Everybody’s happy with how I came back as far as weight-wise and in-shape wise.”

Saunders said he wants to stay within that range because that’s where he feels “light enough to move well but then also heavy enough to fight 600 pounds.”

Jones guided Saunders in reaching his goal weight from afar.

“Chris, he helped a lot,” Saunders said. “That was one of the first people I reached out to and he just taught me how to eat, how to sleep, when to stop eating at night — stuff like that. And it helped a lot.”

As expected, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was asked about the latest on Jones when the coaching staff, quarterbacks and rookies reported on Tuesday.

“Our people have talked with Chris’ people and there’s been communication there and so we’ll just see whether he’s here or not here (on Friday),” Reid said. “We obviously want him here and he probably wants to be here too. We’ll see how all of that works out.”

Reid sounded a bit less agitated than he did back in late May, when it became apparent Jones wasn’t showing up anytime soon.

“I haven’t talked to him,” he said at the time. “We don’t get into that (Jones’ attendance). We just go. You’re here, you get better. You’re not, you don’t.”

But even with a seemingly-improved attitude, the Chiefs head coach reiterated his point Tuesday.

“I’ve said this before, if you miss days you miss days,” Reid said. “This is a unique situation in that we have a change of defense so it’s probably beneficial to be here.”

Jones’ weight loss (and again, we don’t know exactly how much he lost) might mean he profiles more as an EDGE than he does a tackle — and that may not have been in the plans of new Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who has been installing a new 4-3 system since April 15. That could be a problem.

Another problem for Jones lies in that the Chiefs hold all the power. As our own defensive film analyst Craig Stout outlined in a beautiful Twitter thread on Thursday, if Jones doesn’t show up by August 6, he’ll lose an accrued season toward unrestricted free agency. But CBS Sports cap expert Joel Corry has told Arrowhead Pride that is a very unlikely scenario; Jones is likely to report by then.

If he shows up on exactly August 6, the Chiefs could have already fined him nearly $900K, while his base salary for 2019 is only $1.19 million. That is not a lot of leverage.

This is an obvious point, but the Chiefs — and based on our mentions, many fans — simply wish Jones would show up. Some have said that Jones’ actions are just business; others have said they may be selfish.

Based on his own experience, Saunders thinks otherwise.

“Whoever will think what they want to think, but it’s a team,” he said. “We all know where [Jones’] head is and where his heart is, so that’s just what he’s doing right now. He’s just working like everybody else, so you can’t just assume that he’s not working right now. Like I said, he’s working in his own right. And then he helped me, so that’s all you could ask for from a teammate. And he’s been a tremendous teammate ever since the night I got drafted.

“Literally,” Saunders said, “the next day we were talking.”

With veteran report day Friday, the Chiefs hope history repeats itself.

Observations

  • The temperature stayed in the high-70s throughout the morning practice that began at 8:40 a.m. Arrowhead Time.
  • For me, the moment of the day me was seeing the Travis Kelce shimmy — the one friend-of-the-site Terez Paylor of Yahoo! Sports coined as the “dream shake” when he was still on the beat at The Kansas City Star. Kelce shimmied defensive back Herb Miller, leaving him in the dust during seven-on-seven drills. Once I saw the “dream shake,” it confirmed for me that Kelce is doing just fine.
  • Speaking of tight ends (or more correctly, those listed as tight ends), H-back John Lovett was working with the running backs Thursday, and Jody Fortson was working with the wide receivers. Kelce discussed what he has seen from Lovett on Wednesday: “He’s a brilliant kid. He’s learning the offense faster than a lot of guys would. It makes sense. He’s a high-intellect guy, and he understands the information and knows how to put it into his own way and his own form, because he is a different athlete. He’s a different athlete than a lot of us, and that’s the biggest thing about making the transition from quarterback to tight end — you didn’t grow up playing that position, so you’re already behind the 8-ball on that. You can’t just go out there and do tight end stuff. It kind of has to start to make sense in your mind, and it turns into almost your own position or your own way of how you play the game.”
  • For the second day in a row, offensive lineman Cam Erving was mixing in at left tackle. I found this peculiar on day one and thought they may just be working him everywhere, but again, maybe the Chiefs just like Erving as a swing tackle. It will be very interesting to see where he lands in the offensive line groups come Saturday during the team’s first full practice.
  • We’re in year two, and Patrick Mahomes still finds ways to impress. I noticed before the Chiefs started practice that Mahomes took wide receiver Felton Davis aside to show him how he’d prefer him to pivot. Nothing against Davis, a surefire practice squad candidate, but he isn’t making the 53-man roster. Mahomes is the ultimate teammate, and it shows in moments like that.
  • Another note on Mahomes because I know you can’t get enough: he remains the ultimate competitor. In a group install period (offense with no defense), he failed to connect on a corner route with Cody Thompson, and he was visibly upset he could not complete the play. Mahomes’ competitiveness even extends to when there is no defense on the field.
  • No turnovers on defense Thursday, and it’s tough to stand out on that side of the ball until a padded practice. It is worth noting that Thornhill, sidelined with a calf injury during mandatory minicamp, was doing everything for the second day in a row.
  • Rookie running back Darwin Thompson and second-year wide receiver Davon Grayson stood out on offense. Both players showed a knack for catching every pass thrown their way.
  • The only specialist in camp — punter Jack Fox — continues to gulp up face time with Dave Toub while assisting the Chiefs with all kicking duties.

Tweets of note

Quote of the day

Running back Darwin Thompson, when asked by Arrowhead Pride about exactly how hard a Patrick Mahomes pass is to catch: “You know them JUG machines we be on after practice? It’s a real life JUG machine. That’s Patrick Mahomes.”

What’s next?

The Chiefs quarterbacks, rookies and players returning from injury will have one more practice Friday morning at 8:40 a.m., and veteran report day (also known as “Anthony Sherman” Day), is in the early afternoon. A couple of Chiefs veterans will speak to the media.

The Chiefs announced that they will hold another press conference at 11:30 a.m. to speak about training camp opening to the public on Saturday. Chiefs president Mark Donovan is scheduled to talk.