Mailbag: Chiefs head to the regular season

The preseason has mercifully come an end, and that means “real” football is just around the corner. The junior varsity season, otherwise known as the final week of the preseason, is over and now everything counts.

It seems that the NFL draft draws the comparison to Christmas morning, when fans get to unwrap their new toys. Does that make the opening week of the season Easter?

My first mailbag with Chiefs Digest is a bit of smorgasbord, because nothing beats a good buffet.

Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill outraces safety Akeem Davis during team drills at training camp on July 30, 2016 in St. Joseph, Mo. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)
Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill outraces safety Akeem Davis during team drills at training camp on July 30, 2016 in St. Joseph, Mo. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Chiefs fans probably need to adjust their expectations for Tyreek Hill. That’s not a criticism of Hill’s play, but more a criticism of the collective evaluation of Hill in training camp.

There is no doubt Hill has incredible speed, ankle-breaking agility and better than expected hands. All of those skills translate well to training camp where the hitting is not real and any pass play or punt return can be a touchdown.

Hill has not displayed the same eye-opening playmaking in preseason games as he has in practice, and that’s completely normal. But it’s also crucial to remember that Hill is a college running back. His experience as a pass catcher is limited and as a receiver even more so.

It’s also worth noting the Chiefs offense in preseason games has been plain vanilla — not even vanilla bean — and a lot of Hill’s routes have taken him downfield. That seems to be by design, both to mask the team’s offensive game planning and to give Hill valuable experience.

The Chiefs spent a lot of time in training camp in St. Joseph focusing on screen plays, quick slants and other short passes designed to get the ball into the hands of speedy receivers and get them to miss tackles. That’s where Hill can excel.

Realistically rookie receivers don’t normally put up huge numbers in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense. If the comparisons to Hill are players such as Dante Hall, Dexter McCluster and De’Anthony Thomas, remember Thomas led that group with 156 yards his rookie season and Hall didn’t even catch a pass until his third year in the league.

But to the point of Hill versus Albert Wilson, right now they are two different receivers. Wilson is a traditional receiver, Hill is a receiver you move around to create mismatches and get the ball in space. Wilson is an every down receiver, Hill is a specialist.

It’s way too early to call a first year draft pick a bust, and in KeiVarae Russell’s case there are enough factors to make the case he’s right on schedule or even a bit ahead of the Chiefs plan for him this season.

Russell missed the entire 2014 season with an academic suspension, then played his entire senior season with a fractured fibula. That’s a lot of missed development time, and much to recover from physically.

The Chiefs are not expecting Russell to be anything more than he is, which a backup corner. He played a lot early in training camp, but his time decreased, especially as Phillip Gaines worked his way back into the flow recovering from his own knee injury.

Russell doesn’t need to be anything more than a fourth corner this season, and he might only need to be the fifth or sixth. The Chiefs are betting on him for the future, and the likelihood that he will catch up on the development time he missed at Notre Dame.

The Chiefs defensive scheme is predicated on creating an edge pass rush, and nothing else can happen without it. Generating a pass rush without Justin Houston and with a potentially limited Tamba Hali is the team’s biggest question mark.

The youthful secondary is full of potential, but it depends on quarterback pressure to success. It’s yet to be shown that the team has a true shut down corner. Rather, defensive protection is dependent upon pressure.

Houston’s condition still has a bit of mystery to it, but we know he will definitely miss the first six weeks After that the Chiefs have up to three weeks to determine whether he’s ready to practice, and then up to three weeks to practice before they have to decide to activate him. No one knows what will happen beyond week six.

Hali’s status is not as concerning but still cloudy. The impression is that with a combination of injury and age, Hali is a situational pass rusher. But who else do the Chiefs have to get to the quarterback?

Dee Ford shows flashes, but has yet to show week in and week out the ability to defend the run and get to the passer. Dadi Nicolas has impressed against second-team offenses, but he’s unknown. Frank Zombo is a known, and he’s solid, but he’s not an edge rusher. Neither is Dezman Moses.

The Chiefs may look to the waiver wire and trade market this week for help, but that’s no guarantee.

It also may not matter in the long run. The Chiefs are planning to play in January, and the impression is that they plan to manage the regular season to ensure that when the playoffs start, they have maximized the potential to have Hali and Houston rested and ready.

The Chiefs have the talent to win the AFC West, but they must get to the quarterback.

The odds probably favor Tyreek Hill, simply because skill players and kick returners make the highlight reels, and Hill has the potential to be a highly effective punt returner. Only takes one or two electric returns to make a name.

But I think the jersey the kids will want to have belongs to Chris Jones. Jones slid to the second round with many scouts questioning his motor and focus from play-to-play. That has not appeared to be a problem so far in camp and the preseason. Jones already was earning more playing time before a dominating performance against Chicago, but he’s without a doubt on the same level with Dontari Poe, Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard.

Jones rotating with those three should not only balance the work load along the line, but also reduces the demands on Jones. Not having to play down-to-down should allow Jones to go all out and save nothing in reserve. Jones has breakout potential on the line.

Offensive line isn’t a glamour position, so Parker Ehinger may not become a household name. But the rookie from Cincinnati looks to start as a rookie at left guard, and could be a crucial factor for the offensive line as the season progresses.

Plenty. Everyone should know Herbie Teope is an absolute pro who made covering the team look easy. I’m grateful for everything he’s done to help me, and for trusting me with the keys to his baby, Chiefs Digest. I’ve learned much working with him behind the scenes of this site.

Little-known fact: Herbie and I started Chiefs Digest on the couch at his place in between hands of poker and watching preseason football. We had a lot of planning meetings over the lunch pizza buffet at The Dish (rest in peace) in Liberty, Mo. The site has come so far since then, and it’s due to Herbie’s immense talent, tireless work ethic and commitment to journalism.

The biggest challenge so far has been time. I’m a little slower than he is at everything right now. The rhythm will come with time, hopefully.

Other challenges:

  • The first day at Arrowhead Stadium I went the wrong way coming out of the locker room and ended up on an elevator that didn’t go where I needed to go.
  • First day at the training facility, ESPN’s Adam Teicher and The Star’s Blair Kerkhoff were dressed to the nines and I was wearing shorts. Fortunately I had a pair slacks in the car, so I went and changed. After the morning press availability, Teicher finished his video work and changed into shorts for practice in 90-degree heat, and Kerkhoff went to another story he had to cover. I changed my clothes back so I would not burst into flames.
  • Heat. The heat. The heat is everywhere.

Selected pieces of Matt Derrick's collection of Burger King "Star Wars" glasses and pewter figures.
Selected pieces of Matt Derrick’s collection of Burger King “Star Wars” glasses and pewter figures.

Herbie is a great nerd and I love him for it. When it comes to “Lord of the Rings,” “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead,” he absolutely owns me.

But “Star Wars?” Please. If Herbie were John Dorsey and I used my jedi mind tricks on him, I’d have him eating out of my hand like Bib Fortuna on all-you-can-eat Mon Calamari night at Jabba’s Palace. I’d end up with information on every draft pick received in trade since 2013 along with the location of the teams’ secret rebel base. I’d have Herbie encased in carbonite on the wall of my office.

Matt Derrick is the publisher and lead beat writer for Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.