Chiefs mailbag: How suspended, IR, PUP rules affect 53-man roster

This edition of the mailbag addresses questions on what counts against the 53-man roster following roster cuts and specific wide receivers from training camp, among other subjects.

The short answer to carrying more than 53 players on the active roster after roster cuts is no, but the long answer requires scenarios.

Players serving a suspension, on injured reserve or injured reserve with a designation to return, and players starting the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list do not count against the active 53-man roster.

Sept. 29, 2014; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith intercepts a pass during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga, File)
Sept. 29, 2014; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith intercepts a pass during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga, File)

Starting cornerback Sean Smith serves a three-game suspension to start the season, meaning the Chiefs will need to move him to the reserve/suspended list on final roster cuts from 75 players to the 53-man roster on Sept. 5.

Smith is eligible to return to the active roster on Tuesday, Sept. 29, and the Chiefs will then need to make a move to free space to accommodate his return.

An example of such a move occurred in 2014 when the Chiefs placed linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive end Mike DeVito on injured reserve, using one of the available spots to activate then-Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who served a one-game suspension to start the season.

There are two types of injured reserve, one being of the season-ending variety and the other categorized as injured reserve with a designation to return.

The first is self-explanatory, while the second allows a team to designate one player eligible to return during the season.

A player in the latter scenario is not allowed to practice until after Week 6 and can’t be activated to the active roster until after Week 8. The Chiefs under the current regime have used the injured reserve with designation to return in two straight seasons: Defensive back Sanders Commings in 2013 and linebacker Joe Mays in 2014.

Now for the PUP list.

Players on a training camp PUP list are transferred to the reserve/PUP list at the end of camp as long as they have not practiced.

Should a player move to the reserve/PUP list, he can’t practice for the first six weeks of the regular season. The player can then return to practice after Week 6 and has a three-window to do so from Weeks 7-9. If he practices during those three weeks, another three-week window opens for the team to make a decision to activate him to the 53-man roster, place him on injured reserve or release him by the end of that period.

Defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who is on the training camp PUP list while recovering from back surgery, is a prime candidate for the reserve/PUP list.

Meanwhile, here are key dates to remember with roster cuts in mind:

• Sept. 1: Chiefs must cut roster to 75 players no later than 3 p.m. CT.

• Sept. 5: Chiefs must cut roster to 53 players no later than 3 p.m. CT.

• Sept. 6: 10-man practice squad can be set after 12 p.m. CT.

Rookie wide receiver Da’Ron Brown, the Chiefs’ sixth-round pick has five major obstacles in front of him, namely Jeremy Maclin, Albert Wilson, De’Anthony Thomas, Jason Avant and rookie Chris Conley.

He will also need to overtake Frankie Hammond Jr., and Fred Williams if the Chiefs choose to keep six or seven wide receivers.

Hammond and Williams are experienced in the scheme and have flashed more in training camp while working with the second team offense. Also note Hammond has seen repetitions with the first team while filling in for Maclin, who missed time with a neck strain, and Wilson, who battled an illness. Williams also saw action with the first team Tuesday with Wilson out.

While Brown has worked mostly with the third-team offense during training camp, he had a strong showing Wednesday with a couple of deep receptions.

But the rookie wide receiver has his work cut out for him at this stage to make the 53-man roster. He is certainly a candidate for the practice squad, where he can develop in the scheme, much like Hammond and Williams have done.

A tale of the tape comparing wide receiver Albert Wilson to Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown:  

Wilson 5-9 200 4.43
Hilton 5-9 178 4.34
Brown 5-10 186 4.48

Physically, the trio is similar in height, with Wilson the heaviest at 200 pounds.

Wilson’s 260 yards receiving on 16 catches in 2014 bests Brown’s 167 yards receiving on 16 catches during Brown’s rookie season of 2010. Hilton tops Wilson and Brown with 861 yards and seven touchdowns on 50 catches in his rookie season of 2012.

Brown emerged as a star during his second year, and has three 1,000 yards receiving since entering the league in 2010. He has also garnered a first-team All-Pro selection and three Pro Bowl appearances. Hilton has produced two straight 1,000-yard campaigns and comes off a Pro Bowl selection.

But before trying to compare Wilson to an established NFL wide receiver, it is important to remember the schemes of each team.

The Chiefs’ version of the West Coast offense spreads the ball around to numerous receivers, making it difficult to consistently produce 1,000-yard receiving seasons at the wide receiver position.

Coach Andy Reid’s scheme produced just three 1,000-yard wide receivers and they all came during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles: Terrell Owens (2004), Kevin Curtis (2007) and DeSean Jackson (2009-10).

Now, if given the choice to compare Wilson to another, lean to Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, who measures 5-9, 185 pounds.

Like Smith in his earlier days, Wilson can contribute on special teams as a returner. And like Smith or even former Steelers great Hines Ward, Wilson doesn’t shy from getting physical with bigger defenders as a blocker.

“Oh, yeah, I stick my nose in there,” Wilson said with a grin on Aug. 2. “It has nothing to do with my size. I feel like it just puts me more at an advantage on the other side, the receiving route. They know I’m physical; they don’t want to touch me period. Running routes, it makes it a lot easier.”

The Chiefs reshuffled the deck on Aug. 8, inserting rookie Mitch Morse in place of third-year center Eric Kush, Zach Fulton at right guard and moving Jeff Allen from right guard to right tackle in place of Donald Stephenson.

Kush and Stephenson now work with the second-team offense after opening training camp with the starting unit.

Coach Andy Reid didn’t address the media until two days later, but his comments on the offensive line featuring Eric Fisher at left tackle, Grubbs at left guard, Morse, Fulton and Allen focused on cohesion.

“We’re looking for combinations,” Reid said on Aug. 10. “This group seems to be working well together and we’re happy with it so far. Again, we’ll just see, we’re going to try to play the five best guys.”

The Chiefs could rotate personnel with three days of training camp remaining and throughout preseason action, which gives Kush time to make a push.

As mentioned in a previous mailbag, no news is actually good news when it comes to third-year pro Sanders Commings.

The key with Commings is he has stayed healthy throughout camp, a stark contrast to the previous two training camps where injuries wrecked his season before it began.

Commings has worked mostly with the third-team defense and is currently listed fourth at free safety behind Husain Abdullah, Eric Berry and Daniel Sorensen on the initial training camp depth chart.

An unforgiving, blistering morning sun beats down on the Chiefs practice field as the first-team offense gathers yards from the line of scrimmage.

Second-year wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas is among the group, standing out to observers despite his 5-8, 176-pound frame. He breaks from the huddle, a quiet determination in his eyes while he jogs to his place on the left side of the formation, momentarily setting in the slot a few feet from the left tackle.

Quarterback Alex Smith’s voice booms across the practice field through a cadence count, prompting Thomas to take a step back before turning to his right, going in motion and sprinting between Smith and the center to reset to the immediate right of the tight end on the right side of the formation.

The explosive Thomas quickly eyes the nickel cornerback in front of him, a grin creasing his lips, knowing the defender has no chance to stick with him if he gets a clean break off the line of scrimmage.

The crowd holds its collective breath, fully aware something spectacular could very well happen on the play if Smith throws Thomas’ way…

Oh, wait.

The great Seth Keysor of, a friend of, meant the specific routes.

OK, Thomas has worked with the first-team offense alongside wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Albert Wilson, and the Chiefs have lined him wide and the slot. The Chiefs have also mixed personnel packages with Thomas and Jason Avant.

Observations from the media tent reflect Thomas runs a variety of slant, curl, comeback, out and whip routes when he lines up in the slot.

As to what Thomas brings to the table working out of the position, arguably the biggest compliment overheard from the defensive sideline occurred during an indoor practice on Aug. 3.

Smith hit Thomas, who lined up in the slot before the snap, on a short out route to the right side of the field.

Thomas took the pass, easily outran the cornerback and at least two pursuing defenders while turning it upfield for a nice gain, prompting a defensive lineman watching from the sideline to loudly exclaim, “Damn, he’s fast!”


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