KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs coach Andy Reid appeared pleased with what his team accomplished in the final week of organized team activities.
“It’s been a good week of work,” Reid said Friday. “We got four good practices in, the guys are competing, they’ve got good energy. We’re excited for next week to get here.”
The “next week” Reid mentioned surrounds the mandatory minicamp on June 16-18, which will offer a preview of training camp when the pads come on in late July.
But before looking ahead, take a moment to absorb what happened during the previous three weeks of workouts.
There were numerous lessons learned from the recently concluded OTAs, including second-year pro De’Anthony Thomas transitioning to wide receiver from running back, tight end Travis Kelce assuming a leadership role, the development of rookie wide receiver Chris Conley, and veteran wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant embracing a mentorship role with the Chiefs’ young wide receiver corps, among others.
Here are additional takeaways:
The Chiefs rotated various personnel packages on the offensive line throughout OTAs, but for good reason.
“We’re going to find the five best guys,” Reid said on the first day of OTAs. “That’s what we’re trying to get to. I really don’t care where they play, I just want the five best guys and then we line up and we go play.”
An opportunity to read too much into a player not playing at his normal position presented itself throughout OTAs, such as when Donald Stephenson took first-team snaps at left tackle ahead of Eric Fisher on Day 3.
But it was important to keep every scenario in context, as Reid pointed out following that practice.
“It’s the only way you can get Donald some reps there, so we want to make sure that we’ve got everybody covered,” Reid said then. “Actually Fish has done a really nice job, so I wouldn’t read anything into that. We’re staying consistent and moving people around.”
In addition to OTAs allowing the coaching staff an opportunity to identify potential starters, the practices provided evaluations of potential swing tackles or guards ahead of minicamp.
Stephenson can play both sides of the offensive line, evidenced by four starts at left tackle and three starts at right tackle in 2013.
To bring everything in perspective when it comes to rotating personnel on the offensive line, it was only a year ago the Chiefs had Rishaw Johnson at right guard to start OTAs before then-rookie Zach Fulton came on toward the latter part of workouts.
Fulton, of course, emerged fully in minicamp to split first-team snaps with Johnson, and then seized the right guard position early in training camp.
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin left no doubt on the first day of OTAs when it came to his goal on working with quarterback Alex Smith.
“I think it’s all about getting to know each other and getting our timing down,” Maclin said then. “I think we’ve gotten off to a pretty good start doing that.”
And it became clear the relationship was developing between Maclin and Smith throughout OTAs.
There were numerous instances during team-related 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills when the two were on the same page.
Smith would throw to spots and the football was there waiting as Maclin came out of a break.
The end result would often have the two players pointing to each other as an acknowledgement of a well-executed play.
The NFL is forever about the old sports cliché of, “Next man up.”
And three players took full advantage of their opportunities to make an impression with extended looks because of either an injury to players in front of them or absence from the voluntary workouts.
Second-year running back Charcandrick West assumed the No. 3 role with Cyrus Gray recovering from last season’s ACL injury, and West has displayed confidence and growth from his rookie campaign.
“Charcandrick has an opportunity to step in and get some reps, which is great for him,” running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said on June 3. “One thing I will say about Cyrus, I trust Cyrus with everything. I know the type of player and person he is. But at the end of the day, Charcandrick is making the most of this opportunity and needs to continue to do so while No. 32 is out.”
Rookie tight end James O’Shaughnessy also emerged to take first-team repetitions with Travis Kelce in the two-tight end package in place of Demetrius Harris, who is out while recovering from foot surgery in early May.
“I guess you can say surprised or more very happy with the fact that I get the opportunity to work with the No. 1s,” O’Shaughnessy said Thursday after Day 9’s practice. “Going against the No. 1 defense really gives you a clear idea of what you’re going to face every Sunday, so I guess you could say surprised.”
Meanwhile, second-year outside linebacker Dee Ford has played in place of Justin Houston, who missed all OTAs and has yet to sign his franchise tender.
Ford said on the second day of OTAs he spent a lot of time during the offseason focusing on situational awareness, and that has been the biggest improvement in his game from last year.
“Certain situations that I didn’t quite understand,” Ford said. “I could spit it out to you, but once the bullets were flying, it was different. But now that I have seen them ample amount of times and I’ve studied, it’s coming to me.”
FUN BUNCH IN SECONDARY
The Chiefs totaled six interceptions in 2014, which tied for last in the league with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets, despite being ranked second against the pass.
That interception total could change in 2015 if the early tone of OTAs holds true into the regular season.
It was common throughout OTAs to see tipped passes and interceptions during team-related drills.
And the defensive backs clearly had fun on the practice field, especially on Day 3 when the secondary totaled five interceptions, led by cornerback Sean Smith, who victimized quarterback Alex Smith with two picks.
“Well one day, coach Reid came down and kind of stuck a burr under their saddles and kind of upgraded their play in that particular part of practice,” defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas said on June 3 of the earlier interception-fest. “And they stood up to the challenge and had some success. We’re still in shorts, but they are competing.”
Last season’s stout pass defense could be even better in 2015 when considering first-round pick Marcus Peters and third-round pick Steven Nelson were unable to participate in OTAs because of the NCAA quarter system.
The two rookie cornerbacks add quality depth to an already deep cornerback corps.
Cornerback Phillip Gaines more than did his share of turning heads throughout OTAs.
He is heavier at 188 pounds, an increase of six pounds from his playing weight in 2014, he fully understands the scheme and he is fully healthy.
Gaines gives the Chiefs flexibility in pass coverage, as he can play outside or at the nickel cornerback position.
“Last year, you’re coming in and seeing all these players you’ve never seen before, never played with before,” Gaines said on June 2. “You’re not playing as fast as you usually do. Now that I got some playing time and saw how things move, I have a lot more confidence so I can play a lot faster.”
Offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is another player looking to make a move in his second year.
The 6-5, 318-pound Duvernay-Tardif has been a part of the offensive line rotation, and even took first-team snaps at right guard on Day 8 of OTAs.
Duvernay-Tardif has shown versatility on either side of the offensive line, and he has gained confidence with the responsibilities.
“I think I’m starting to be comfortable on both sides now,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “I think that’s going to be a huge part if I am able to play on both sides.”
UNDRAFTED PLAYERS TO WATCH IN TRAINING CAMP
The Chiefs won’t report for training camp until late July, but two undrafted players caught attention.
Wide receiver Kenny Cook is hard to miss on the practice field and it isn’t because of his 6-4, 218-pound frame.
Cook, who played collegiately at Gardner-Webb, is athletic, fast and consistently made plays down the field during team-related drills.
Cornerback Justin Cox, who played free safety at Mississippi State, has shown a knack for getting his hands on passes to knock them away while displaying his blazing 4.36 40-yard dash time.
Cox’s signature play occurred on Day 3 of OTAs when he stayed step-for-step with the speedy De’Anthony Thomas on a deep post route, and then knocked down a pass at the goal line.
So why file these players as ones to watch for training camp?
Assistant head coach/wide receivers coach David Culley said it best on June 3 when it comes to judging a young player’s progress in OTAs, and why it is important to temper enthusiasm at this stage of offseason workouts.
“I’ve never seen one yet make the team in shorts,” Culley said. “When you put the pads on, once we go to training camp, now you find out what’s what.”
TOP QUOTABLES FROM OTAS
Coach Andy Reid to a reporter on contingency plan if outside linebacker Justin Houston doesn’t show for the mandatory three-day minicamp:
“We’ll put a helmet on you and put you in.”
Wide receiver Jason Avant on how long it should take for a wide receiver to develop timing on a route with a quarterback:
“You just have to get hit in the back of the head one time with the football and you should be good.”
Center Eric Kush, who has commanded first-team repetitions, on entering third season:
“Everything just seems as smooth as butter to you.”
Left guard Ben Grubbs joking about visiting left tackle Eric Fisher:
“I’ve been over to Fish’s house once and he had his boxer jump all over me. He really didn’t correct it, so I don’t know if I’m coming back over there.”
Running back Knile Davis on the goal for 2015:
“We have one goal; that’s to win a Super Bowl.”