KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs full roster returns to the practice field this week with the beginning of organized team activities. The offseason schedule includes 10 OTA practices before concluding with a mandatory in June.
The practice schedule takes place at the team’s training facility near the Truman Sports Complex. Practices are scheduled for May 23-25, May 30-June 1 and June 6-9. The mandatory veteran minicamp takes place June 13-15.
The third phase of the NFL’s offseason program allows teams to practice 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. No live contact is permitted, and practice sessions are closed to the public.
NEXT STEP FOR PATRICK MAHOMES
First-round draft pick Patrick Mahomes already made his on-the-field debut for the team during rookie minicamp. But OTAs mark the first time the young quarterback gets to work alongside his anticipated mentor Alex Smith as well as the team’s other offensive veterans.
Mahomes displayed off his rifle arm during rookie minicamp, but also showed signs of why coach Andy Reid says the signal caller remains a work in progress. The OTAs give Mahomes an opportunity to work with receivers well-versed in the team’s playbook, a benefit he did not have during the minicamp.
How the Chiefs divide snaps during OTAs could provide a glimpse at how the organization plans to give Mahomes needed experience while getting Smith ready for the season as well as keeping projected No. 2 quarterback Tyler Bray prepared for emergency duty.
The Chiefs bring 20 rookies to OTAs between their six draft picks and 14 undrafted free agents.
Mahomes draws most of the attention among the rookie class, but the team has many other rookies worth keeping an eye on during OTAs.
Running back Kareem Hunt, for example, saw his profile rise when he joined Mahomes and 38 other rookies for the NFLPA Rookie Premiere event. Hunt saw time at running back and in the return game during rookie minicamp.
The OTAs also provide the first glimpse at how the Chiefs may utilize their three defensive draft picks, each of whom may be making a slight position change.
The Chiefs project defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon as a five-technqiue end lining up on the outside of the tackle. Fifth-round pick Ukeme Eligwe expects to compete at inside linebacker. Leon McQuay III, predominantly a safety at USC, lined up at cornerback and nickel back during rookie minicamp.
Among undrafted free agents to monitor are mammoth offensive lineman Damien Mama, who impressed coaches during minicamp. Other names to watch include the Oklahoma State defensive back tandem of Ashton Lampkin and Jordan Sterns, Oregon State defensive back Devin Chappell and Nebraska wide receiver Alonzo Moore.
The OTA also give the first public indication of how Chiefs on the mend from injuries are progressing.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson, recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, will not participate in OTAs. Johnson says he remains on target to return to the field by the start of training camp.
The status of tight end Travis Kelce also remains in doubt following offseason shoulder surgery. Reid indicated in March that Kelce could miss at least some of the team’s offseason program.
The availability of Justin Houston during OTAs should provide a barometer for the health of his balky left knee. Houston played just six games last season.
Defensive lineman Allen Bailey and offensive guard Parker Ehinger both ended last season on injured reserve. Ehinger sustained a torn ACL last October against Indianapolis Colts, and his availability during OTAs could provide a big boost to the offensive line.
Linebacker Dadi Nicolas, who suffered a torn patellar tendon in the regular season finale at San Diego, may not return to practice until training camp at the earliest.
INSIDE LINEBACKER BATTLE
Johnson’s absence provides the Chiefs an opportunity for a deeper look at the competition among the inside linebacker group.
Injuries riddled the position a year ago. The team did activate Justin March-Lillard from injured reserve for the playoffs but he played just a single snap against Pittsburgh.
Rakim Wilson, whom the Chiefs placed on waivers last September, finished the season strong following Johnson’s injury.
In addition to veterans Wilson and March-Lillard, Terrance Smith, an undrafted free agent from Florida State last season, also returns along with special teamer D.J. Alexander.
The Chiefs drafted Ukeme Eligwe with the plan to test him at the inside role. The team also claimed Reshard Cliett off waivers from Tennessee. Cliett was a sixth-round pick for Houston in 2015.
The result is a deep pool of competition for spots on this year’s squad as well as the potential heir apparent for Johnson. While the 34-year-old expects to be ready for his 13th season with the team, he remains under contract through only the 2018 season.
Marcus Peters enters his third NFL season on the brink of emerging as an elite shutdown corner. But the team’s depth chart remains as firm as jello elsewhere at cornerback with plenty of talent but considerable questions.
The battle for the right cornerback, nickel back and backup roles should prove the most competitive position battles during OTAs and training camp.
Outside Peters, the only constant for the Chiefs at cornerback last season was Steven Nelson at nickel back. Phillip Gaines battled knee issues throughout the season, bouncing him in and out of lineup with inconsistent play.
Terrance Mitchell, promoted from the practice squad in November, provided stability at the season’s end. Mitchell has yet to prove, however, he can play at the same level for a full schedule.
The Chiefs bring 11 cornerbacks to OTAs. That group includes Kenneth Acker and D.J. White, both of whom saw playing time last season. The team also adds sixth-round draft pick Leon McQuay III to the mix, along free agents DeVante Bausby and Stanley Jean-Baptiste and undrafted free agents J.R. Nelson and Ashton Lampkin.
Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.