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The Chiefs’ 3 most intriguing positions to observe at training camp

When you make the trip to St. Joseph, Missouri, you should pay attention to these groups on the field.

NFL: AUG 07 Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sunday, July 23rd, will be the Kansas City Chiefs’ first training camp practice available to the public, giving the fans their first preseason look at the 2023 squad. With so many intriguing names to track, following the action on a given day can be hard.

Going into this season, I believe three particular position groups will be most worth zoning in on as you watch practice. Whether it’s the jockeying for positioning on the depth chart or getting eyes on new members of the team, these are the players to keep a closer eye on the fields at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, Missouri.


NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I am the most excited to see the linebackers fly around on the practice field — whether filling run lanes or making a play in coverage. There are four that have the talent to legitimately contribute to the starting defense.

Nick Bolton has cemented himself as the MIKE linebacker, calling plays and setting the formations. Aside from that, the trio of Willie Gay Jr., Drue Tranquill, and Leo Chenal will work to fill in the other roles linebackers play for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Tranquill is the newcomer after a season where he started 16 games for the Los Angeles Chargers. He is most comfortable working in pass coverage over the middle or firing into the backfield on a blitz. He had five sacks last year but also defended four passes and picked off another.

He has the experience to earn the trust of Spagnuolo; that could lead to playing the Dime linebacker role, the lone linebacker on the field with six defensive backs in a situational, pass-down package. Bolton stayed on the field for those plays last year because he was the only trustworthy MIKE, but those scenarios aren’t where he thrives.

In previous years, the Chiefs’ defense primarily used a situational player — former linebacker Ben Niemann — for the Dime package. Tranquill would not only be a better version of that; the move would keep Bolton fresh for the regular downs.

The thing is, Tranquill could do more than play that spot — and that’s where this camp becomes such an important one for Gay and Chenal. Gay needs to prove he’s worthy of sticking around in a contract year. The hard-hitting Chenal is only in Year 2 but showed enough flashes last year that tell me he isn’t going quietly to the bench.

All three will be battling each other for playing time, which should make for some electric moments at practice.

Sleepers to check out: Undrafted signings Cam Jones (No. 44) and Isaiah Moore (No. 45) flew around the field and delivered hits in college. Check them out at the fringe of the linebacker group.

Wide receivers

NFL: MAY 24 Kansas City Chiefs OTA Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you think you know how this receiver room will shake out, you may want to just wait a few weeks to be safe.

The veteran Marquez Valdes-Scantling and dynamic Kadarius Toney will play the roles you expect them to in the starting offense, but do we really know what will happen after that? I believe a breakout year for second-year receiver Skyy Moore could be coming, but he will have to fend off rookie receiver Rashee Rice — who got a head start at camp with quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Then you consider what a veteran receiver like Richie James could bring to the unit, someone whose athleticism as a ball carrier translates to being a good returner, but he can do much more. It doesn’t hurt that Mahomes’ personal trainer Bobby Stroupe is all aboard the hype train.

That doesn’t mention Justin Watson, who clearly built a rapport with Mahomes last year; he saw 34 targets and scored two touchdowns.

With the Chiefs raising their usage of multiple tight ends in a formation, the group of receivers that will get legitimate opportunity is squeezed to four, five depending on the game. That’s where it could get interesting between young players like Moore and Rice; neither will contribute on special teams if not a starter, but one or the other may need to if they don’t prove themselves as reliable pass catchers at camp.

Sleeper to check out: Ihmir Smith-Marsette (No. 82) is entering his third season since being a fifth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. He ran a 4.5 40-yard dash at 6 feet 1 and 181 pounds in his pre-draft process and has return experience in college and the NFL — possibly providing value that way.

Pass rushers

NFL: APR 27 2023 Draft Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Chiefs are on a quest to find a pass rusher that can fully maximize the advantage that comes when teams focus all their efforts on stopping defensive tackle Chris Jones.

The three candidates I see on the team are:

  • Defensive lineman Charles Omenihu
  • Defensive end George Karlaftis
  • Rookie defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah

The first of the list was a free-agent signing this spring, coming off a season with the San Francisco 49ers where he tallied 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles between the regular season and playoffs. He did most of his damage as an interior rusher, which makes for an exciting thought next to Jones on a third down.

However, it would be an excellent development for both the short and long-term of the defense if one of the first-round picks stepped up in this fashion. Karlaftis’ production last year may point to it, but I believe he’ll still be more solid than he is a threatening rusher.

Anudike-Uzomah has the potential to be the one that adds pressure on offensive tackles consistently, mentally and physically. It may not be fair to expect that right away, but it will be worthwhile to track his progress as the preseason progresses.

Sleeper to watch: Rookie, fifth-round selection B.J. Thompson (No. 53) was a flashy speed rusher in college. He will need to fill out physically as a professional, but he could still provide some highlights off the edge in camp.

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