Seeking answers on injuries

Whether they get complete answers or not, there are four key questions attracting the attention of Andy Reid and John Dorsey as the Chiefs began on-field work in the OTAs and an upcoming mini-camp. The Chiefs passing game was addressed here. This post focuses on No. 2:

  1. How much progress can Alex Smith make with his new cadre of receivers, topped by Jeremy Maclin and Chris Conley?
  2. How far along physically are injured starters inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive end Mike DeVito? What about safety Tyvon Branch, signed in free agency that missed most of the 2014 season in Oakland? Will they see safety Eric Berry in the next three weeks?
  3. What combinations will they create along the offensive line, with old and new faces?
  4. With draft picks Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson out of action because of NFL rules, what kind of depth can the Chiefs develop at cornerback, where they always seem to need talented bodies?

Derrick Johnson was on the practice field Tuesday after missing 15 games last year due to injury. (KC Chiefs photo.)

The status of injured Chiefs came into a much clearer picture on Tuesday as they worked through their first OTA. The focus of attention was on inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive end Mike DeVito. The defensive starters both went down in the 2014 regular-season opener with ruptured left Achilles. Both underwent surgery and began the arduous task of rehabbing what is one of the toughest injuries to come back from in sports, and especially football. For a pair of players older than 30, an Achilles repair is even tougher to come back and reach performance levels of previous seasons.

Real football remains months down the road, but in Tuesday’s OTA Johnson and DeVito practiced without restrictions from the doctors and trainers. As a defensive lineman in one of these OTA sessions, it’s tough to show much since there is limited contact. For Johnson however, that was not the case. The most tenured Chiefs ran around in the practice with no visible impairment, flashing his speed on several plays that indicated he’s lost nothing on his football fastball.

“I’m a veteran, I’ve been to OTAs a lot, but at the same time after being out a year, I need this time,” Johnson said. “This is big for me. This is going to help me get back to form and when the 2015 season comes around I’ll be going.”

When the Chiefs offense and defense went head-to-head in the 7-on-7 passing drill, Johnson showed his reaction skills have not deserted him. When a pass was dropped in the flat to his left, Johnson ran down running back Knile Davis on the sideline and turned what appeared to be a big play, into a minor gain.

“I tracked him down pretty good,” Johnson said with a smile. “Then, the next play Jamaal (Charles) caught a ball on me. Football is never perfect; that’s one of the best things about it. It’s always going to humble you, even if you have a good play here and there. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m excited.”

For a linebacker like Johnson, the real test of the Achilles will have to wait for training camp and pre-season games when he must take on blockers and change directions at full speed.

DeVito appeared to move around on the defensive front without problems. Same for safety Tyvon Branch, who played just five of 32 games in the last two years with Oakland, spending the 2013 season (broken leg) and 2014 schedule (fractured foot) on the injured-reserve list for the Raiders. During his snaps with the No. 1 defense Branch appeared to move around without any restrictions.

Outside linebacker Tamba Hali confirmed that he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee about a month after the conclusion of the 2014 season. Swelling and fluid bothered Hali throughout the season although he did not miss a game, opening all 16 contests. “It feels good; glad to get out here and cut on it, run on it,” said Hali. “It feels good.”

The Chiefs said Tuesday that tight end Demetrius Harris had a second surgery on the foot he injured last season. “The natural grafting that normally takes place when you put a screw in there didn’t take place,” said head coach Andy Reid. “So they went in and they grafted it, they’ve re-presented a screw in the bones there and we’ll see how he does. They feel pretty confident about this one coming up here.”

Quarterback Tyler Bray was not on the field in Tuesday’s practice as he continues rehab in California for his torn ACL. Running back Cyrus Gray was on the field, but only watching because of the torn ACL he suffered near the end of last season.

The biggest question mark facing the Chiefs when it comes to health is the status of safety Eric Berry. On Tuesday, Reid indicated that Berry’s treatment program for Hodgkin lymphoma has wrapped up and he will soon have a meeting with his doctors to find out just where he stands and his immediate future.