Chiefs mailbag: The road to training camp begins

The current wide receiver corps and lingering concerns over the defensive secondary leading to training camp are among the subjects to address in this weekend’s mailbag.

Buckle in because this will be a long response.

Prior to the draft, a popular opinion emerged – mostly from national media and draft prognosticators watching the team from afar – that the Chiefs had an absolute need at the wide receiver position.

I initially agreed pre-draft based on last season’s numbers alone, and then around mid-March decided to reach out to former Philadelphia Eagles players and a former Eagles scout to find out what type of wide receiver coach Andy Reid potentially seeks. We learn from the past, after all.

There are two factors to consider when assessing the wide receiver corps:

• It was their first year in Reid’s version of the West Coast offense, a scheme a few of his former players shared with me as “complex.”

• Reid’s offense in 2013 missed an essential component, the tight end position.

While it’s easy to forecast improvement on the first area, it’s quite another to hear it directly from somebody who knows having played in Reid’s system.

Former Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston told me in late March it took him “a year and a half to process the whole terminology of the West Coast offense” when he played for Reid. But once Pinkston grasped what was required of him in the system, he said the second season proved much easier.

That came before some of the current Chiefs players said virtually the same thing leading to and throughout OTAs, serving as a reinforcement of what Pinkston and others previously told me.

As to the importance of the tight end position in Reid’s offense from voices who know, feel free to read this article, this article and this article.

Meanwhile, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, as the saying goes.

The coaching staff and front office were apparently comfortable with the primary wide receivers carried over from last year, contrary to the numerous projections of the Chiefs using a first-round draft pick on a wide receiver.

From what I’ve observed of the wide receiver corps from being on the ground covering all OTAs and the three-day minicamp is a group that appears comfortable compared to last season.

While the players are in shorts and helmet, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe seems in excellent shape and there’s chemistry between Bowe and quarterback Alex Smith. Donnie Avery has looked good and there’s plenty of competition among Junior Hemingway, A.J. Jenkins, Weston Dressler, Frankie Hammond, Kyle Williams, among others.

Additionally, the Chiefs drafted a versatile weapon in De’Anthony Thomas, who can line up in the backfield or in the slot.

There’s reason for optimism heading into training camp and it will be interesting to see how the receivers perform once the pads come on. But don’t get too caught up in individual numbers unless you’re heavy into Fantasy Football.

In the real world, keep in mind during 14 seasons with the Eagles only three of Reid’s former wide receivers hit the 1,000-yard receiving mark: Terrell Owens (2004), Kevin Curtis (2007) and DeSean Jackson (2009-10). Of Reid’s nine playoff appearances with the Eagles, only three teams produced a 1,000-yard wide receiver (2004, 09-10). 

Is the wide receiver position important? Yes. Is it reasonable to expect improvement from the position this season compared to 2013? Yes.

But all things considered, the system isn’t designed for a single wide receiver to be the focal point of the offense.

From not fitting the scheme or the financial reasons to cut ties, there are arguments for both sides whether the Chiefs are better or worse without Flowers.

That said, a work in progress is what comes to immediate mind.

With last year’s starter Sean Smith running with the second-team the final four days of OTAs and missing minicamp with an illness, the Chiefs have worked Marcus Cooper in Smith’s spot at right cornerback and Ron Parker at left cornerback with the first team during 11-on-11 and 9-7 drills. Chris Owens has defended the slot.

The big question is whether Smith returns to his normal position, a question that has been posed to Chiefs coach Andy Reid twice.

“We’ll see,” Reid said on the last day of OTAs. “The other guys are performing well, so we will see.”

And then a virtual rehash on the last day of minicamp.

“We will see,” Reid said Thursday. “There’s competition there and we’ll see how all that works. The other kids did a nice job. (Marcus Cooper) Coop was working in there and did a nice job. Parker did a nice job in the other corner. There’s competition at those positions.”

For their part, Cooper and Parker welcome the opportunity to compete.

Nevertheless, the Chiefs need to figure out the direction they’re going at cornerback within the first week or so of training camp.

The team rotated the quarterbacks during 11-on-11 and 9-on-7 drills, but Alex Smith takes the majority of snaps with the first-team offense. The pecking order with repetitions and rotation has been Smith, Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray. That could change in training camp when it comes to the backups.

Now when it comes to the overall position, which I’m positive Terez Paylor will agree on, Smith is clearly way ahead of Daniel, Bray and Murray in terms of talent, presence and command of the offense.

Cornerback Ron Parker had good and bad moments during OTAs and minicamp.

A memorable case of bad occurred on Day Nine of OTAs when I counted three times he victimized. The first came on a deep pass from quarterback Tyler Bray to wide receiver Darryl Surgent, who got behind Parker.

The next two came when he defended against wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who caught two back-shoulder passes from quarterback Alex Smith. Granted, it’s difficult to defend that type of pass when executed well. But Parker didn’t turn his head on the second pass.

Parker committed a pass interference infraction on the second day of minicamp when he once again didn’t turn his head on a deep pass and ran through wide receiver Donnie Avery. The play drew a clearly audible, “You have to turn your head” from assistant defensive assistant/secondary coach Al Harris.

Now to finish on a high note.

While Parker, who enters his fourth season, had those bad moments, there were plays during 11-on-11 and 9-on-7 drills where he’s broken up passes and produced an interception.

At 6-0, 206 pounds, there’s potential with the converted college free safety as he continues to grow into the cornerback position. And if the Chiefs desire speed to go along with size, Parker possesses a 4.35 time in the 40-yard dash.

As to left tackle Eric Fisher (shoulder), he’s been limited to individual position drill during OTAs and minicamp with a view to having him ready when the team reports to St. Joseph in late July.

“Fisher will probably be training camp where he can actually jam and hit somebody,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said on May 29. “That’s what you can’t do right now. They don’t want him to do that. He’s doing everything else working his feet.”

It remains to be seen if Santos is better, but the money angle is intriguing.

As pointed out in the first installment of the mailbag, rookie kicker Cairo Santos’ 2014 payout is $420,000, according to the NFLPA database.

The Chiefs will pay Ryan Succop $1.95 million in 2014 and $2.75 million in 2015, according to the NFLPA database.

Definitely a training camp battle worth watching.

Look to the bright side because as of this publishing there are just 34 days until training camp on July 24 and 75 days until the NFL regular season kicks off on Sept. 4.

But who’s counting?


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