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Anticipating the Chiefs’ top 5 training camp battles

Here’s what we are watching as Kansas City heads for training camp in St. Joseph next week.

NFL: Super Bowl LVII-Kansas City Chiefs vs Philadelphia Eagles Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs are set to make their annual migration north to training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri. Rookies will report on Tuesday, while veterans will report on Friday. The first practice will take place next Sunday, July 23.

Let’s take a closer look at the top battles we expect during 2023’s training camp.

5. Kick returner

NFL: Washington Commanders at New York Giants Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Under head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs have always strongly emphasized special teams — especially the return game. It’s hard to argue with the results: just ask a Philadelphia Eagles fan. But despite game-changing performances in the postseason, Kansas City’s special teams struggled last year with several costly turnovers — and nary an impact play.

This offseason, coaches have expressed a desire to have punt returners Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore focus on their roles in the offense. Meanwhile, injuries are already an issue for running back Isiah Pacheco. who returned kickoffs last season. It sounds like the Chiefs will be hoping to replace both of them.

Players we are watching: Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has already compared rookie running back Deneric Prince to former Kansas City kick returner Knile Davis. Prince now seems to have an inside track on returning kickoffs. While recently-acquired veteran wide receiver Richie James has 75 career punt returns — and would be a logical replacement for Moore and Toney — we should also keep an eye on undrafted free agent Nikko Remigio out of Fresno State.

4. Safety

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last two offseasons, the Chiefs have lost safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorenson — and now Juan Thornhill is gone, too. So since losing to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021’s AFC Championship, Kansas City has turned over the entire safety room. The only sure thing in the position group is veteran Justin Reid — who developed nicely in the second half of last season, but still has room to grow in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s system.

Players we are watching: Toward the end of his rookie season, 2022 second-round draft pick Bryan Cook saw the field more and more often. Even though he’s a much different kind of player than Thornhill, Cook should be a big part of the team’s 2023 plan at safety. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards has been productive as a backup and spot starter. Fourth-round rookie Chamarri Conner could push both Edwards and Cook. He’ll be an instant contributor on special teams — and has enough versatility to play in the slot. In St. Joseph, there will be a tight race for the team’s second and third safeties.

3. Running back No. 3

NFL: JUN 08 Kansas City Chiefs OTA Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Chiefs won the Super Bowl with only Pacheco and veteran Jerick McKinnon at running back. So the need for a third running back might be limited. Just the same, with McKinnon’s injury history (and with the team likely to start camp without the injured Pacheco) there is probably a path for a third back — and maybe even a fourth.

Players we are watching: After Kansas City declined the fifth-year option for former first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the former LSU running back has a lot to prove. While he’s made big plays for the Chiefs, his inability to stay on the field (and providing no impact on special teams) could put him on the hot seat. So this is another way the team could justify a roster spot for Prince. As a back, his strengths are similar to Pacheco’s — and his speed and physical style fits the team’s offensive scheme. His lack of skill as a pass protector (and as a receiver), however, might be redundant behind Pacheco.

2. Linebackers No. 2 and No. 3

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It's not hyperbole to say that Kansas City might have one of the league’s best linebacker groups — if not the best group. This obviously starts with third-year player Nick Bolton, who played 99% of defensive snaps in 2022 as the team’s MIKE linebacker. His role will likely be much the same in 2023 — although the Chiefs might like to get him off the field a little more often. Willie Gay Jr. continues to be an athletic freak who sometimes seems to struggle with the mental aspect of the game. Unfortunately, his impact plays can be both positive and negative.

Players we are watching: The team brought veteran Drue Tranquill over from the Los Angeles Chargers, bringing something the linebacker corps really needed: pass coverage skills. While Gay logged the second-most linebacker snaps last season, he’s going to have to fend off Tranquill for those in 2023. Second-year player Leo Chenal is a hammer looking for a nail in the running game. If he can develop a similar ability defending against the pass, he’ll also be pushing for playing time. Don’t count out undrafted free agent Isaiah Moore, either. Many viewed him as a Day 3 prospect with traits like Bolton.

1. Left (and right) tackle

NFL: Super Bowl LV-Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After giving up zero sacks to the vaunted Eagles’ pass rush in the championship game, the Chiefs replaced both of their starting tackles — and as the offseason progressed, the team’s plan seemed to be evolving. Considering the strength of the interior offensive line, Kansas City has some flexibility at tackle — but it’s still a crucial position. That’s especially true when both of them are being replaced.

Players we are watching: Newly-signed Jawaan Taylor is the big-money free agent. The assumption is that he will play right tackle — but the Chiefs spent the entire pre-draft process talking about his ability to play on the left. For now, that seems to be where newly-acquired Donovan Smith will be playing. But can he return to his 2021 form? Rookie Wanya Morris was the next true tackle taken after his teammate Anton Harrison was selected in Round 1. Could he contend for the left tackle job? Or will he be the swing tackle off the bench? Is Lucas Niang in danger of not making the team? As you can see... there are lots of questions to answer.

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