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16 days ahead of regular season, Chiefs preparing for reality without Chris Jones

Kansas City hosts the Detroit Lions on the NFL’s opening night — whether their star defensive tackle is there or not.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

A little more than two weeks before the Kansas City Chiefs’ first regular-season game, there remains an overwhelming uncertainty about the defensive line.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones missed all of training camp — has chosen to continue his holdout even with the team back in Kansas City. Defensive lineman Charles Omenihu is suspended for the first six games of the regular season.

Defensive tackle Matt Dickerson, who had mixed in with the first team at camp, is dealing with a turf toe injury that has him out of practice. Defensive tackle Turk Wharton — who is recovering from ACL surgery — just returned to the lineup on Tuesday. But the flare-up that cost him a week-plus of practice is concerning.

Kansas City’s front office is still evaluating the room's depth, with veterans such as Malik Herring, Joshua Kaindoh and Danny Shelton all vying for roster spots.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo acknowledged the circumstances when he took the podium following the club’s practice on Tuesday.

“You’re always looking for continuity, right?” said Spagnuolo. “Continuity comes with reps and being around each other and together, and we haven’t had that — a lot of moving pieces right now. Sometimes — and we’ve talked about this before — sometimes, it takes you the first quarter of the season to figure out who you are and what you have. Now, along the way, you hope you’re winning games. But it might take us a little while to figure all that out.”

Coming off the first All-Pro season of his career, Jones is undoubtedly the defense’s most important player. But with so many missed workouts, the defensive staff understands that when — or if — he does rejoin the team, there will have to be a ramp-up process for him to get in “football shape.”

That is why it sounds as though Spagnuolo would like to see Jones back very soon.

“I don’t think Chris is any different than any other player that misses the entire camp and has to play,” said Spagnuolo. “It’s tough. You certainly can’t expect that particular person, as good as Chris is, to play every down, and then you worry about injuries, the body ready. Now Chris always keeps himself in good shape. But football shape’s different, so hopefully we can get him back and then when that happens, we’ll just have to figure out how to go about it.”

When asked how it might impact the initial 53-man roster, Spagnuolo deferred to general manager Brett Veach, who is expected to be made available to the media following the roster cutdown on Tuesday, August 29.

As the clock ticks away, the team seems to be embracing the genuine possibility of a Week 1 without Jones. Considering the Omenihu suspension (and what the lineup showed at camp), the starting four base linemen might look something like this: George Karlaftis, Derrick Nnadi, Wharton (should he be healthy) and Mike Danna.

“It’s a big difference (without Jones), but it’s always next man up,” said Danna. “You got to be ready when your number is called, and that’s why we’re professional athletes. That’s why we’re out here taking all these reps, and I think that’s the biggest thing you can keep doing. Just keep on stacking each day, have the next man ready — keep on the repetition.”

Preparing for that reality with defensive line coach Joe Cullen, Spagnuolo says that the personnel would simply need to be enough. He does not have a choice in the matter.

“It will have to be, right? It will have to be,” said Spagnuolo. “We’ll have to find a way to do it... when things like this happen, you play off a little bit as if we got hurt in the game. Very similar. We’d have a little bit of an advantage of knowing ahead of time, but we’ll stay hopeful.”

Kansas City hosts the Cleveland Browns in its final preseason game on Saturday afternoon.

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