13 Practices/24 Days-The Heart of Chiefs Off-Season

Starting Tuesday is the most important part of the Chiefs off-season program – 13 OTA and mini-camp practices over the next 24 days.

These sessions are not exactly football – there are no pads and no tackling. Physical contact, especially along the line of scrimmage, is prohibited by the league’s labor agreement with the players.

But, these practices are as close to actual football as teams are allowed by that same contract. That doesn’t mean there’s not information to be gleaned from the work. In the case of all 32 teams it’s another step in evaluating where they sit with the 90-man roster. That starts with the 22 starters on offense and defense and then the next 22 backups and special teams performers.

Whether they get complete answers or not, there are four key questions that attract the attention of Andy Reid and John Dorsey. In no certain order they are:

  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?

Over the next four posts we will look at each one of these questions and why they are important for the 2015 Chiefs. It starts with the passing offense.

Alex Smith & Receivers

The offense, and particularly the passing game, must take big steps in improved production and consistency compared to last season. This next three weeks is when Smith can begin to develop rapport with new catchers like Maclin, Conley, tight end James O’Shaughnessy, wide receiver Da’Ron Brown and others. While there’s limited pressure from a pass rush and the defensive backs are not playing full bore, this will be the first time the passing game will get to go against defensive players. It’s the next step for the quarterback in learning the habits of the new guys, and the next step for the new guys to understand what Smith looks for when he’s in the pocket.

It will also be another step in the passing game thinking for Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. With each opportunity to see their weapons, the coaches can start tweaking their playbook, adding here, deleting there and coming up with new ideas. Reid’s playbook is pretty extensive and deep, but one of the best things about his approach is that very few of those pages are written in stone. He’s adaptable if he finds someone or some play that could be a game breaker. You can bet that along with the basics the offense that will be worked in with the new faces, Reid-Pederson already have some plays earmarked for the likes of Travis Kelce, De’Anthony Thomas and Albert Wilson.

This is the time of year when quarterbacks start filing away little pieces of information about the guys on the other end of their throws. Smart quarterbacks, and the Chiefs have at least two in Smith and Chase Daniel, do not forget anything, even an OTA practice in May.

Maclin has an advantage in the coming days because he’s lived with the Reid playbook in a prior football life with the Eagles. There are changes that Maclin has already acknowledged, but it’s a difference of syntax rather than language. Another receiver that should be operating on a different level is Kelce. Physically, he was unable to go full-speed during last year’s off-season practices as he recovered from surgery. That’s not the case this year, and that’s why there is so much anticipation of what kind of season he can have based on what he did in 2014 (67 catches, 862 yards, 5 touchdown receptions.)

Joining Kelce in the same boat is second-year receiver-runner Thomas. He missed last year’s OTAs because of academic calendar issues coming out of the University of Oregon. Then, he suffered a hamstring pull in the week before the regular-season opener and missed more valuable time adapting to his new offense. Thomas caught 26 passes last season for 156 yards. That was just 6.8 yards per catch and that’s a number that Reid wants to inflate in the 2015 offense.

These practices will provide early feedback for the coaches on just how prepared and adaptable draft picks Conley, O’Shaughnessy and Brown are in learning and mixing into the offense. Last year, undrafted receiver Albert Wilson started gaining attention during the OTA sessions and he returns after catching 16 passes for 260 yards in his rookie season.

Working in this year’s practices will be a pair of undrafted rookies with a chance to find a roster spot – Kenny Cook and Donatella Luckett. They must make their mark immediately in the OTAs, showing they can continue the good play displayed at the rookie mini-camp earlier in the month.

Tight end Demetrius Harris is coming off a season lost to injury. It’s going to be an important time for the former college basketball player. Last year he looked like a football player, compared to looking like a basketball player attempting to play football. That level of improvement must be exceeded this year, as he’s playing for the No. 2 or 3 spot.

Quarterback Tyler Bray is not scheduled to participate in the OTAs as he recovers from a knee injury suffered back in January.

Next: what about the players injured last year that are scheduled to return to the field and the prospects if they cannot achieve their previous level of performance.

4 Responses to “13 Practices/24 Days-The Heart of Chiefs Off-Season”

  • May 26, 2015  - TimR says:

    Great preview, Bob! I certainly hope Cook & Luckette (WRs) are “finds”. We need their length and speed very badly to take steps in the passing game and provide depth. Maclin isn’t the savior. What if he gets injured? I very much disagree with the conventional wisdom by some that a rookie WR can’t be very productive. There are too many exceptions to this in recent years. It just isn’t conventional wisdom anymore. We either have talent, or we do not. Reid needs to figure out what can be done consistently well with them and do it, or keep churning. I’d rather have a thinner playbook done really well than not play the better talent because you want to use more of the playbook – especially early on.

  • May 27, 2015  - Johnfromwichita says:

    Tim, I agree. Keep it simple. Simple works more often than known. We Americans tend to complicate matters.

    A guy named Deeming went to Japan to help out on efficiency. A car maker was having problems on the assembly line for engines. At a point the engine had to rotate front to back. Their enginners cmae up with a machine that cost over a million to build. Deeming, working with the people working the line found a cheaper way: they had a janitor stand there with his mop handle and manually rotate the engines coming down the line.

    Deeming brought back to the US what he learned and a lot of big companies tried it but Japan is a different culture and it didn’t work here.

    Like the janitor with his mop, Reid is going to be challenged to get the best he can out of the talent he has. And simple is not a bad way to go.

  • May 28, 2015  - BigJimInWisconsin says:

    Edward Deming. First brought his ideas of production efficiency to the Big 3 automakers. They could care less. They were making lots of money. Japanese embraced the ideas and started making cheaper & more lasting cars.

    Anyway … Go CHIEFS!

  • May 28, 2015  - Johnfromwichita says:

    BigJim, thanks for the corrections. It’s been nearly 30 years since my involvement with the Deming Tapes and Boeing. HR had to form “Quality Circles”. Workers in one department matched with managers from other departments met to discuss and resolve a problem. Wanna guess who did all the talking? Not a pretty sight.

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