Camp Notebook: Steve Spagnuolo Seeking Answers Among Chiefs Quixotic Cornerbacks

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The Chiefs entered training camp with fingers crossed their cornerback group could avoid injuries and inconsistency, yet just four days into camp that wish shows little sign of coming true for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

“I'll be honest with you, I'm trying to find out what we have at corner in so far as what they can do,” Spagnuolo said following Tuesday's morning practice.

One decision the Chiefs appear to have finalized is to focus Kendall Fuller on playing in the slot. Last year Fuller started at left cornerback, then kicked inside to the slot when the team deployed a substitution package.

“Kendall is going to master that nickel spot,” Spagnuolo said. “We've got to find a backup there too. And then in emergencies or at times, he may go outside too, but I think that's a natural position for him.”

The club opened camp with Charvarius Ward at left cornerback and free agent Bashaud Breeland on the right side. Breeland suffered a lacerated thumb during Saturday's practice, which opened an opportunity for second-year corner D'Montre Wade. The two split duty with the No. 1 defense on Tuesday, and earned praised from Spagnuolo

“I think D'Montre has done a heck of a job,” Spagnuolo said. “He's one guy that I think is really buying in and embracing the techniques that Sam Madison and Dave Merritt are teaching.”

Fuller and Breeland, however, have struggled at times early in camp. Ward has been the most consistent of the first-team corners, but Wade has turned in the best overall performances thus far.

The Chiefs expected veteran Keith Reaser to compete for a roster spot after a successful run in the Alliance of American Football this spring. But an Achilles injury on Monday appears to have derailed that bid. Herb Miller, an undrafted free agent from Florida Atlantic, picked up second-team reps in Reaser's absence Tuesday. Rookies Rashad Fenton and Mark Fields have also spent time with the No. 2 defense.

Spagnuolo said Fields stood out with his play thus far in camp.

“I think we've got a long way to go for the mental part of (his) game,” Spagnuolo said. “But he's made a lot of plays. If he's able to get it all mentally, he starts to climb because he's done some really good stuff.”

Spagnuolo remains uncommitted to the coverages he plans to play once this season stars. Right now, he's throwing “a plethora of different coverages” at his young corners to see what sticks and who stands out.

“Once we got a feel for what they can and can't do, we'll cut it down and settle in,” Spagnuolo said. “I'm Just evaluating that as we go. We're giving them everything.”

Tuesday marked another day heavy on position drills and installation periods with seven-on-seven and team drills mixed in.

At least 11 different pass catchers mixed in with the No. 1 offense during installs. That included six wide receivers (Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Mecole Hardmand Marcus Kemp), two running backs (Carlos Hyde and Darwin Thompson) and three tight ends (Travis Kelce, Blake Bell and Deon Yelder).

The deepest competition on the defensive side of the ball lies in the trenches. While Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi and Alex Okafor appear set as the starters, the rotation on the No. 2 line continually changes. On Tuesday, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Khalen Saunders, Justin Hamilton and Breeland Speaks started with the twos.

Just as with other position groups such as cornerbacks, Spagnuolo finds himself testing players in different situations to see who holds that skill sets. In Kpassagnon, Spagnuolo see a big, long athlete with a high football IQ.

“So you package that together, I think he's got a chance to help us in a lot of different ways,” Spagnuolo said. “Once we figure out the best thing he does, that's wat we'll try to slot him into and roll.”

Play of the Day

After today, Chiefs Digest officially retires Patrick Mahomes from winning play of the day – OK, unless he does something REALLY Mahomesian.

Take your pick for the Mahomes throw of the day. His no-look pass to Carlos Hyde wouldn't have counted due to a holding call on the offense against Frank Clark, but his perfectly placed sidearm throw to Tyreek Hill in double coverage qualifies as a play that would stand and make the highlight package.

Offensive Performer of the Day

Cody Thompson: If you're looking for a sleeper pick at wide receiver, Thompson's the choice. The undrafted free agent from Toledo shined in one-on-one drills against defensive backs, and he continues to make solid plays working in with both No. 2 and 3 offenses. Will be interesting to see if Thompson can push for snaps with the No. 1 team, especially if he continues his hot pace through the first preseason game.

Defensive Performer of the Day

Juan Thornhill: The rookie safety continues to showcase the ball skills that made him a second-round draft pick out Virginia. He turned in two interceptions on Tuesday, and stands as one of the bright spots on the club's No. 2 defense. Expect Thornhill to push veteran safety Daniel Sorensen for playing time with the ones as training camp progresses.

The Chiefs appear to have dodged disaster with wide receiver Tyreek Hill sustaining only a quad contusion in a violent collision with cornerback Bashaud Breeland. Hill took a few moments to get up from the hit, then limped gingerly over to the medical tent before leaving practice.

The Chiefs practiced without two offensive starters on Tuesday. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (back spasms) and running back Damien Williams (hamstring) both sat out. Also not practicing were wide receiver Gehrig Dieter (back spasms), running back Marcus Marshall (groin) safety Jordan Lucas (hamstring), cornerback Keith Reaser (Achilles) and linebacker Darius Harris (shoulder).

9:35 – The time of night when head coach Andy Reid holds a daily staff meeting, after which the other night defensive end Chris Jones tracked down defensive line coach Brendan Daly for additional extra. “That tells me he's a prideful guy and he wants to learn it,” Spagnuolo said.

“It's way different. The coaching staffs are two different coaching staffs. The ones from last year, I liked them a lot. As you see, some guys didn't. But this year, they're very on it. They're on us a lot about being in the right place, pushing us to be better this year. It's just all about just going out there, keep getting better, and we're not worried about last year.”

– Linebacker Reggie Ragland on the differences between the 2018 and 2019 editions of the Chiefs' defense

What's Next?

The Chiefs have a 10-10-10 practice starting at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning, then they take their first off day of training camp on Thursday.

Wednesday's practice could be the first dealing with inclement weather. The forecast calls for a chance of thunderstorms during the practice window. The Chiefs will practice in the rain, but they will move indoors if lightning strikes are in the area. Indoor practices are closed to the public. Be sure to watch the forecast if planning a trip for training camp and be prepared to deal with storms in the area.