AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- We've already established just how much the Kansas City Chiefs need running back Jamaal Charles and how important he is for their aspirations in 2014.

That part isn't the surprise. Anyone who watched the Chiefs play in 2013 realized his worth to his team.

You probably don't realize the other part of this, just how much a holdout would have hurt Charles. It would have hurt Charles plenty, perhaps as much as his absence would have hurt the Chiefs.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Charles
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images"I didn't want to hold out," Jamaal Charles said. "That's not my place. I couldn't do it. I just wanted to get the deal done."
Though it may appear otherwise now, after his arrival at training camp at Missouri Western State University was delayed by a couple of hours until he received the contract extension he wanted, Charles isn't a greedy, me-first diva. He is, by all accounts, a good teammate. Despite his desire for a pay raise, Charles attended offseason workouts and practices. It wasn't just a show of good faith to the Chiefs. Charles wanted to be slaving and sweating with his teammates.

Charles cares about giving the Chiefs their money's worth. He cares about what his peers think. He cares what you think.

It's important to Charles to leave an imprint on the game that will last for years. He's well on his way toward doing that. Many backs have had a season or two as good as the ones Charles has put together in recent years.

Few have had as many as Charles. Playing in Andy Reid's offense for the Chiefs, Charles has a great opportunity to enhance his legacy, but that's impossible for him to do while he's sitting out in a pay dispute.

So if you think the Chiefs were relieved to see Charles take their practice field with the rest of his teammates as they opened training camp on Thursday, the feeling was mutual.

"I didn't want to hold out," Charles said. "That's not my place. I couldn't do it. I just wanted to get the deal done. I could have held out and gotten (more money). I'm just happy with what I have for right now. ... I didn't want to even be selfish like that. That's not my personality."

Charles joined the Chiefs at camp a couple of hours after the reporting deadline on Wednesday, after the sides had reached agreement on the contract extension. Charles felt ashamed enough about a holdout even that brief that he took to Twitter with the joke he had been late because his car broke down on the way from Kansas City to St. Joseph.

So while the Chiefs needed Charles, the opposite is just as true. And had the Chiefs held firm for just a few days and held back their offer of new money, Charles might have caved first.

"I couldn't (hold out)," he said. "I wanted to do it but it's just not me. I'm not a cocky player. I'm not one of the players (who does) that to his team. I've always been a team player my whole time here. I was ready to get the deal done and move forward."

Chiefs camp report: Day 1

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
7:45
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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Some thoughts and observations on the Kansas City Chiefs' first training camp practice at Missouri Western State University:
  • Sean McGrath was the Chiefs' leading pass receiver at tight end last season with 26 receptions, but after reporting to camp a day earlier, he was absent from practice. He is reportedly considering retirement. McGrath faces a difficult battle to make the regular-season roster. At tight end the Chiefs have veteran starter Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris. The Chiefs drafted Kelce in the third round last season and have big plans for him in the passing game after he missed all of last season with a knee ailment. Harris was a basketball player in college, but has showed an aptitude as a receiver. McGrath, at the least, is good insurance in the event of an injury to one of the others.
  • The kicking competition got going early. Veteran Ryan Succop and rookie Cairo Santos each made all of their six field goal attempts, with 43 yards being the longest try for each player. Santos has ability and provides a less expensive alternative to Succop. But the Chiefs are better off sticking with the incumbent. It would probably prove to be a mistake to go with an untested rookie in such a pressure-filled job.
  • The Chiefs are counting on reserve safety Sanders Commings to play in their nickel defense, but he might not be reliable. Commings didn't practice and the Chiefs put him on the non-football injury list with a strained foot. Coach Andy Reid said he believed Commings would return to practice soon, but Commings might be revealing himself as an injury-prone player. He missed most of his rookie season last season with injuries. The Chiefs also put backup guard Rokevious Watkins on the non-football injury list because of a problem with a disk in his back.
  • The Chiefs worked on kickoff returns and spread the work among five returners. They should give most of the work to the two most promising candidates, Knile Davis and rookie De'Anthony Thomas. Davis returned a kickoff for a touchdown as a rookie last season. Thomas, a fourth-round draft choice this season, is fast, but because of his size (5-9 and 174 pounds) might be better suited to returning punts. But the Chiefs need to make sure of that before taking Thomas out of the kickoff return mix.
  • Cornerback Sean Smith appeared to move into the No. 1 cornerback spot last month when the Chiefs released Brandon Flowers. But Smith was demoted to second-team soon afterward and practiced as a backup again Thursday. The decision is a curious one. Smith is the most experienced of the Chiefs' cornerbacks and at 6-3 has the size the Chiefs prefer in their corners. Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker are, at least for now, the starters. Cooper struggled at times as a rookie last season and Parker is a journeyman. The Chiefs need to get Smith back in their starting lineup soon.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- I recently wrote that the Kansas City Chiefs need to give a new contract to young outside linebacker Justin Houston, who has clearly outplayed the deal he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2011.

Likewise, running back Jamaal Charles has outperformed the contract he signed with the Chiefs in 2010. The Chiefs and Charles have discussed a new deal but in this case I’m going to urge the team to be a lot more cautious in handing out their money.

Charles
I’m not suggesting Houston is more valuable to the Chiefs in the short-term or that he’s a better player than Charles. Neither is the case.

But the differences between the two situations are huge, and those differences make it a good idea for the Chiefs to pay Houston but a dicey one to pay Charles.

Though both players have outperformed their contracts, Houston had no choice but to sign his. He was a third-round draft pick with no leverage and no choice but to take Kansas City’s offer or not play.

Charles went willingly into the contract he signed. It wasn’t the offer he was obligated to take in 2008 as a third-round draft choice. In 2010, he opted for Kansas City’s cash up front instead of the chance to eventually become a free agent.

These last two seasons were part of that deal.

A bigger and perhaps more important difference is that Houston's new contract wouldn't be payment for things he's already done. The Chiefs can pay him for his projected production over the life of a long-term contract, as Houston is just 25 and should have several productive seasons ahead of him.

Can you realistically say that about Charles, even though he’s only 27? He’s got a lot of mileage on him. There’s no indication his production is about to nosedive, but at the same time it’s reasonable to believe that his best football is behind him.

So by giving him a fat new contract, the Chiefs would be rewarding him for what he’s already accomplished and not what he's set to accomplish in the future. That’s a dangerous way of doing business, and one that almost always backfires.

A modest raise for Charles is in order. Anything more than that and the Chiefs deserve whatever they get.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs have no shortage of candidates to replace the departed Dexter McCluster as their slot receiver. The popular choices are holdover Junior Hemingway, CFL veteran Weston Dressler, rookie De'Anthony Thomas and developmental prospect Frankie Hammond Jr.

Williams
An already-crowded field gained one more body Monday at Missouri Western State University when the Chiefs began a three-day camp for rookies and selected veterans. Kyle Williams returned to full participation after tearing the ACL in his left knee last year for the second time.

It's wise not to overlook Williams as the Chiefs search for McCluster's replacement. He's fast and has more career NFL catches, 47 in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, than all of the other main candidates combined.

There's a reason the Chiefs claimed Williams off waivers last November and a reason they re-signed him as a free agent in the spring. They wanted to get a look at Williams in Andy Reid's offensive system.

The Chiefs didn't get much of a chance to do that last year. He played in only one game for them before re-injuring the knee.

"It looked like I was going to have some serious game-plan activity last year when I got here," Williams said. "But crazy things happen. The thing about it is that they gave me their word they wanted me back and they followed through on that."

Williams completed a quick rehab after having surgery in December and appears ready to compete for a job when full-squad training camp begins on Thursday.

"The knee feels good," Williams said. "It feels stable. It feels like a solid knee. I feel like myself out there. I felt like last year when I came in I could help. I feel the same way this year."
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The most realistic hope for the Kansas City Chiefs to improve their passing game in 2014 is for them to get more than the 55 receptions they got last year from their tight ends. Their chances for that got better on Monday when Travis Kelce went through a full practice for the first time in almost a year.

It was just the beginning of a three-day rookie camp at Missouri Western State University. Selected veterans, Kelce being one, were also invited to participate. Full-squad training camp begins on Thursday.

Kelce
Still, his return was a victory for the Chiefs and Kelce. An ailing knee and the resulting surgery caused Kelce to miss all of his rookie season last year, and then he was a bystander for virtually all of offseason practice.

Kelce moved around well and did so without a brace or any other kind of protection on the knee.

“From here, it’s just a matter of getting back into football shape and getting ready to play a 16-game season," he said.

The Chiefs would happily settle for whatever they can get from Kelce if he’s available to them for 16 games this year. They had big plans at tight end heading into training camp last year, with Kelce joining veterans Tony Moeaki and Anthony Fasano.

But because of injuries, neither Kelce nor Moeaki played a down on offense and Fasano missed eight games. The Chiefs pieced together a group of tight ends that included waiver claim Sean McGrath and did well to get to 55 catches from the position.

They need more from their tight ends this season. A healthy Kelce, as well as development from former college basketball player Demetrius Harris, figures large in those plans.

The Chiefs weren’t more aggressive about pursuing an accomplished wide receiver through free agency or the draft in part because they have big expectations for Kelce.

At 260 pounds, Kelce is big for a tight end, but he’s not just a receiver capable of running the short or intermediate routes. He’s proved capable of beating coverage to make catches down the field.

The prediction here is that with Kelce in their lineup for a full season, the Chiefs’ tight ends will blow past 55 catches at a relatively early point in the 2014 schedule.
Examining the Kansas City Chiefs' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

The Chiefs could go a lot of different directions here. The only certainty is a healthy Smith will start. Daniel, the veteran backup, could be traded if the Chiefs determine that either Bray or their other developmental prospect, Aaron Murray, is ready to be the No. 2. That’s unlikely, so the Chiefs need to determine what to do with Murray. They didn’t draft him to release him, so he could go on the injured reserve list. The Chiefs could also keep four quarterbacks.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

There’s room for another player here if the Chiefs believe they need to keep two running backs in addition to Charles and Sherman, the fullback. They needed three in last season’s playoff game in Indianapolis. Thomas is listed as a back and might get some work as one, but he’s too small to be an every-down player if that’s what the Chiefs require. So Cyrus Gray, a useful special-teams player, or Joe McKnight could also stick.

WIDE RECEIVER (5)

Other receivers will have ample opportunity to make the team, because the Chiefs have a need. But they won’t keep another receiver without that player earning the spot.

TIGHT END (3)

Kelce’s troublesome knee could impact the roster decisions here. If his knee remains balky, the Chiefs could keep Sean McGrath.

OFFENSIVE LINE (10)

The Chiefs will, pardon the pun, go heavy here. Andy Reid likes to stash some developmental linemen.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6)

There’s no need to keep more, not with Poe playing so many snaps and the Chiefs occasionally using only two linemen, and sometimes one.

LINEBACKER (10)

This assumes that Houston returns to the Chiefs in time for the start of the regular season. If not, the Chiefs will need another body.

CORNERBACK (5)

A position of importance is an area of concern. Only Smith, a starter, and Owens, a nickelback, are proven.

SAFETY (4)

Abdullah has more experience at free safety, but the Chiefs might be better served by going with the bigger Commings as their starter.

SPECIALISTS (3)
Cairo Santos has an impressive leg, but it’s difficult seeing the Chiefs going with a rookie kicker instead of the veteran Succop.

Camp preview: Kansas City Chiefs

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
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NFL Nation reporter Adam Teicher examines the three biggest issues facing the Kansas City Chiefs heading into training camp.

Where is Houston? Having outperformed the contract he signed with the Chiefs as a third-round draft pick in 2011, outside linebacker Justin Houston was absent for all the offseason practices, including the mandatory minicamp. Since Houston’s only leverage for getting a contract extension this year is to stay away from camp until he gets it, it's unlikely he will show without a new deal. That would be a tough blow for the Chiefs. Houston is their top proven pass-rusher and arguably their best all-around defensive player. The pass rush, which was on a record pace for sacks over the first half of last season, sagged measurably after a dislocated elbow caused him to miss the final five regular-season games. The Chiefs would not be left without quality edge pass-rushers. Veteran Tamba Hali, another Pro Bowler, is on the other side, and the Chiefs drafted Auburn’s Dee Ford in the first round. Ford looked promising as a pass-rusher during offseason practice, but it’s a bit much to expect him to immediately be as versatile as Houston. Ford was a defensive end in college and has much to learn before he is on Houston’s level.

Who is at corner? The Chiefs released Brandon Flowers last month, leaving them perilously thin at cornerback. With the exception of 5-foot-9 nickelback Chris Owens, all their remaining cornerbacks are big and capable of getting physical with opposing receivers, as the Chiefs prefer. But the quality is a concern. Veteran Sean Smith steps in as the top cornerback, and he held his own as a starter last season. Marcus Cooper will at least begin camp as the other starter. As a rookie, he played well for the first half of last season as the third cornerback, but his play tailed off badly in the second half, to the point that the Chiefs benched him. Cooper has the physical tools to be a decent starter, but he showed over the final few games of last season that he has a lot to learn. The Chiefs drafted Phillip Gaines of Rice in the third round this year, but during offseason practice it didn’t look like he was ready to contribute. Journeyman Ron Parker played well in his one start last season. But he got a lot of playing time during the offseason and was often exposed.

A rebound for Bowe? In September, Dwayne Bowe turns 30, an ominous age for a wide receiver because that is when many begin to lose their skills. That process might already have started for Bowe, who had the worst full statistical season of his career in 2013. Still, Bowe represents the Chiefs’ most realistic hope for improvement at what was largely an unproductive position last season. The Chiefs added former Canadian League star Weston Dressler and drafted speedy De'Anthony Thomas in the fourth round, but they are slot receivers and are merely trying to replace the production lost with the free-agent departure of Dexter McCluster. Otherwise, the Chiefs will go with the same uninspiring cast of receivers as last season, meaning Bowe needs to get back to what he was earlier in his career. That is not an unreasonable expectation. Bowe was never particularly fast, so he doesn’t have a lot of speed to lose. The Chiefs need to do a better job of playing to his strengths, the main one being his ability to find yards after the catch. The Chiefs should get back to the bubble screens that were so productive for Bowe earlier in his career.
Justin HoustonDavid Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCTKansas City's top pass-rusher, Justin Houston, has 26.5 sacks in his past 32 games.
Those of us who regularly watch the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t find this to be news, but the confirmation was welcome, anyway. Pro Football Focus recently released its list of the 10 most underpaid players in the NFL, and Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston came in at No. 7.

The only surprise was that Houston wasn’t higher on the list. A Pro Bowler in two of his first three NFL seasons, Houston has become one of the league’s best pass-rushers and all-around defensive players. He has 26.5 sacks in his past 32 games, and PFF gave him a higher rating last season than any other outside linebacker playing in a 3-4 system.

For this, the Chiefs are scheduled to pay Houston about $1.4 million this season. No wonder he stayed away from offseason practice, including a mandatory three-day minicamp.

Houston wants to get paid and he wants his money now. The Chiefs should accommodate him.

Houston has clearly outperformed the contract he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2011. Normally, it’s not a good idea to spend sympathy on players who no longer like the terms of the contract they once signed, but Houston doesn’t fall into that category. As a middle-round draft pick three years ago, he had little choice but to accept whatever the Chiefs were offering.

Another bad idea is to pay players based on past performance. The Chiefs have done that too many times over the years and been burned. The latest episode happened last year, when one of John Dorsey’s first moves after joining the Chiefs as general manager was to give wide receiver Dwayne Bowe a five-year contract worth about $11 million a season.

[+] EnlargeFord
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsDee Ford gives the Chiefs a young pass-rusher to complement Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
The Chiefs might never get their money’s worth from that deal. But the Chiefs, by giving him a lucrative and long-term contract, wouldn’t be rewarding Houston for what he’s done. They’d be paying him for what he’s going to do.

Houston is 25. Giving him a contract that makes him happy has plenty of benefit for the Chiefs as well. They would be locking up their best pass-rusher and, perhaps, their best defensive player for the foreseeable future.

Is there something about this strategy that doesn’t make sense? Is it ever a bad idea to secure a good, young player for the long term at today’s prices?

The Chiefs would occasionally go wrong with this plan. But there is nothing about Houston’s first three years with the Chiefs, on or off the field, that would suggest it would go wrong with him. He dropped to the third round of the draft in 2011 for allegedly testing positive for marijuana at the scouting combine that year, but there have been no suggestions he’s been anything but a positive for the Chiefs ever since.

Houston won’t come at a bargain price. Green Bay’s Clay Matthews is the highest-paid outside linebacker in the league based on average salary at about $13.2 million. Houston’s Kansas City teammate, Tamba Hali, is next at about $11.5 million.

Numbers in that neighborhood shouldn’t scare the Chiefs. Pass-rusher isn’t a bad spot to hold such a heavy investment, one that now for the Chiefs also includes their first-round draft pick, Dee Ford.

The Chiefs drafted Ford in part as insurance for Houston’s holdout. Ford showed promise as a pass-rusher during offseason practice and could possibly do a reasonable imitation of Houston as a rookie.

Even so, there is no way the Chiefs are a better team with Houston off doing his own thing instead of playing for them. But this shouldn’t be about the immediate future, anyway. The Chiefs would pay Houston for his presence over the longer term, and that is when his deal really makes sense.

Hali turns 31 in November. He has yet to show any signs that his skills or production have begun their inevitable decline.

His price nonetheless goes up next year. He costs the Chiefs almost $11.5 million against their salary cap this season and a little less than $12 million in 2015. Having a tandem of Houston and Ford gives the Chiefs the flexibility to move Hali next year, if they feel it’s necessary, and still carry on with a couple of premier pass-rushers.

It’s always easy to spend someone else’s money. From this corner, though, we’ve generally preached fiscal sanity when it comes to that of Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt. You heard it here months ago that the Chiefs should let offensive tackle Branden Albert walk (they listened). You heard no panic from these parts when, in rapid succession during the opening moments of free agency, they lost Albert, guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah, receiver/kick returner Dexter McCluster and defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Each one of those players was worth more to his new team than to the Chiefs. They would have been foolish to pay premium prices for any of them.

That is not the case with Houston. They passed on re-signing any of their five prominent free agents so they could save to spend on what’s really important.

If that’s not Justin Houston, what is?

Chiefs’ biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
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One of the biggest reasons the Kansas City Chiefs have been unable to sustain success (no back-to-back winning seasons since 2005 and 2006) and have been among the NFL’s worst teams when they haven’t been in the playoffs (four victories or fewer in four of the past seven seasons) is their often ragged play at quarterback.

Smith
That changed last season after they traded for quarterback Alex Smith. After coming over from the San Francisco 49ers, Smith stabilized the most important position in a way no player had for the Chiefs in almost a decade. It’s no coincidence that the Chiefs returned to a double-digit win total and the playoffs with Smith running their offense.

The Chiefs need to sign Smith, who is headed into the final season of his contract, to a long-term extension and build around him if they are to sustain last season's success into the foreseeable future.

Smith is a good fit for the West Coast offensive system of Chiefs coach Andy Reid. He is an accurate passer who should complete a high percentage of his attempts. Smith does a good job of protecting the ball, and his low interception rate allows the Chiefs to be threats to score each time they gain possession of the ball. Smith's running ability allows him to frequently escape the pass rush and make a positive gain on what otherwise could be a busted play.

The Chiefs are already invested in Smith, having sent a pair of second-round draft picks to the 49ers for him. The Chiefs also have a veteran backup in Chase Daniel and developmental prospects in Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray, but neither is an obvious candidate to replace Smith in the long term.

The Chiefs would need to start over in regard to finding a starting quarterback if they failed to re-sign Smith. Since that path has left them reeling for much of the past decade, they need to get his signature on a new contract and move on to other issues.
Otis Taylor AP Photo/NFL Photos
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Kansas City Chiefs history. Previously we featured 65 Toss Power Trap in Super Bowl IV, and next we'll look at Joe Montana’s touchdown pass to Willie Davis in the final seconds that lifted the Chiefs to a classic "Monday Night Football" victory over John Elway and the Denver Broncos in 1994. Please vote for your choice as the Chiefs’ most memorable play.

Score: Chiefs 23, Vikings 7
Date: Jan. 11, 1970 Site: Tulane Stadium

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The Chiefs' lead in Super Bowl IV had dwindled to 16-7 over the Minnesota Vikings in the third quarter. Kansas City needed a big play to stretch its lead, so quarterback Len Dawson went to his big-play receiver. From the Minnesota 46, Dawson threw a short pass to Otis Taylor, who was running a hitch pattern near the right sideline.

From there, the play was vintage Taylor, still perhaps the greatest wide receiver ever to play for the Chiefs. He broke an attempted tackle by cornerback Earsell Mackbee and then streaked down the sideline.

Before getting to the end zone, Taylor put on a move that made another defender, Karl Kassulke, miss.

As Taylor spiked the ball in the end zone, Kansas City had reason to erupt as it has few times in a sports sense before or since. The play gave the Chiefs a 23-7 lead and finished the day's scoring.

Taylor's touchdown isn't as storied as the Chiefs' other touchdown that day, Mike Garrett's 5-yard scoring run. That touchdown remains a big part of Chiefs history and not just because of its significance. The play known as 65 Toss Power Trap is also celebrated in Chiefs lore because coach Hank Stram, who was being recorded by NFL Films, announced it was coming and celebrated it after Garrett's touchdown.

The name of Taylor's touchdown play is lost to history. But his touchdown was far more spectacular and dramatic than Garrett's.

Mike GarettAP Photo
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Kansas City Chiefs history. In the next two days we’ll feature: Otis Taylor’s catch and run for a touchdown in Super Bowl IV and Joe Montana’s touchdown pass to Willie Davis in the final seconds that lifted the Chiefs to a classic "Monday Night Football" victory over John Elway and the Denver Broncos in 1994. Please vote for your choice as the Chiefs’ most memorable play.

Score: Chiefs 23, Vikings 7
Date: Jan. 11, 1970 Site: Tulane Stadium.

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The Chiefs’ first touchdown in their only Super Bowl victory came on a 5-yard, second-quarter run by Mike Garrett. The play gave the Chiefs a 16-0 lead they would take to halftime and effectively put the game out of reach for the Vikings. Minnesota in the second half would cut Kansas City’s lead to nine points but given the way the Chiefs’ defense was dominating the game, it was obvious at the time of Garrett’s touchdown that the Vikings would have trouble getting to 17 points.

The play might have otherwise been reduced to a lesser place in Chiefs’ lore had the words of coach Hank Stram not been captured that day by NFL Films. Wearing a microphone that recorded for history many of his colorful outbursts, Stram famously predicted the play, named 65 Toss Power Trap, would result in a Kansas City touchdown.

“It might pop wide open," Stram said just before the snap.

Indeed, it did. Garrett had to avoid the diving tackle attempt of one Minnesota defender but otherwise went into the end zone untouched.

Then, amid the sideline celebration, Stram could be heard to say, "65 Toss Power Trap, I tell you that baby was there!"

The play lives on today, on YouTube among other places. That makes it one of the most storied in Chiefs history.
Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe was so valuable to the Kansas City Chiefs last season he rarely came out of the lineup. Pass situation or run, first quarter or fourth, close game or blowout and Poe was on the field for the Chiefs.

Poe
That’s not strange for a linebacker like Derrick Johnson or a defensive back such as Eric Berry. But Poe goes well over 300 pounds and it’s unusual for a player of his size to see so much playing time.

Look for Poe to continue to get plenty of work again this season. The Chiefs failed to add a nose tackle of any quality, leaving them without a viable candidate to take his place, even for a handful of snaps.

“He’s a unique guy,’’ coach Andy Reid said. “You go in and do these conditioning tests and he’s 340 pounds or whatever he is. His body percent fat is zero. He’s goes out and runs these things and is the first guy out front with the big fellas. He’s one of those guys. He’s a unique character.

“To get him off the field you have to pull him off. He’s not one to tap out. That’s not how he goes. You monitor that the best way you can. We didn’t see a decline in his play as the season wore on. There are a handful of teams that do what we do where you play certain guys a high percent of the plays.’’

Those players usually aren’t defensive linemen. So it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Chiefs to search for a nose tackle capable of giving Poe some occasional rest.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Until the first minicamp practice on Tuesday, the Kansas City Chiefs had only tantalized with rookie outside linebacker Dee Ford. They had used their first-round draft pick as a pass-rusher, but mixed him into their base defense only on occasion.

That changed on Tuesday, when Ford was on the field with the starters in all situations for the first time. Justin Houston continued his holdout and Ford was in his place, with veteran Frank Zombo moving to a backup role.

[+] EnlargeDee Ford
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillThe Chiefs hope pass-rusher Dee Ford, who had 10.5 sacks for Auburn last season, can get to the QB in the NFL as well as he did in college.
The move could be a sign the Chiefs aren't expecting to see Houston any time soon. It could mean the Chiefs just believe it's time to give Ford more to see how he handled things. They could easily go back to Zombo in today's practice, however unlikely that might be.

In any case, the lineup change was no small moment for the Chiefs or for Ford.

"It's a step," Ford said. "I can't lie. It means a lot to me working with the first group in all of the situations."

The Chiefs have Pro Bowlers in Houston and Tamba Hali at Ford's position, so they might like the luxury of using him mostly as a situational pass-rusher this early in his career. He's learning a new position, having played defensive end in college at Auburn, so the best thing for Ford and the Chiefs at this point might be to limit him to pass-rushing, what he knows best.

Houston's holdout doesn't allow them to bring him along slowly. It's one thing for Zombo to play as Houston holds out during regular offseason practice. Those workouts were technically voluntary.

Minicamp is a mandatory event for all players under contract, so Houston is subject to a fine for his absence. His holdout is suddenly more urgent, as is the Chiefs need to prepare Ford to take Houston's place.

Ford appeared to handle his assignments well.

"I was mistake-free today and I'm happy about that," he said. "That's the goal. I have a few smaller things to clean up, but it's not like I was out there and I didn't know what I was supposed to do on a play. I feel like I'm doing some good things. Once I do earn it. I want to sustain it."

The Chiefs drafted Ford because of his pass-rush ability. His success or failure will ultimately be based on his ability (or lack of it) to get to the opposing quarterback. But there is more to his job than just chasing the quarterback.

"That's very important to me to be known as more than just a pass-rusher," Ford said. "I want to be a guy that my teammates can count on on every play."
The Kansas City Chiefs begin their three-day minicamp on Tuesday. Here are three things I'll be looking for:
  • The full-squad debut of De'Anthony Thomas. The Chiefs' fourth-round draft pick, Thomas hasn't been able to practice since the rookie camp shortly after the draft. Classes had still been in session at Oregon, where Thomas went to college, and NFL rules prohibited him from working with the Chiefs. That ban is now over and it will be interesting to see how Andy Reid utilizes Thomas' speed in the offense. He lined up in a variety of spots during rookie camp, including wide receiver, slot receiver and running back. He also should get a turn as the kickoff and punt returner.
  • The return of Travis Kelce. Another player who could provide an offensive boost, Kelce also hasn't practiced this spring. He had knee surgery last year, missing all of the season, and has been rehabbing, but Reid held out some hope Kelce could get some work this week. That's good news for the Chiefs, who other than Thomas added no significant new offensive skill players. Kelce is a tight end, but also lined up in a variety of spots before his injury last year. He showed then the ability to get down the field to beat coverage and make plays.
  • Life without Brandon Flowers. The Chiefs have been practicing without Flowers all spring but there was always the sense that having Marcus Cooper in the starting lineup was a temporary thing. The spot is Cooper's now and there doesn't appear to be anyone who can challenge him for the job. Ron Parker, who has been getting recent snaps in the starting lineup, has been beaten several times. Rookie Phillip Gaines, a third-round pick, doesn't look like he's ready to help yet.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Brandon Flowers was a bit of a misfit for the Kansas City Chiefs since they hired John Dorsey as general manager and Andy Reid as head coach last year. At 5-foot-9, Flowers suddenly found himself playing for a team that preferred its cornerbacks much larger. He didn't play well last season despite making the Pro Bowl, and his unhappiness over being shifted to nickelback in obvious passing situations became evident when he held out from offseason practice.

Flowers was still the best cornerback the Chiefs had. That, too, became obvious during his offseason absence.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Flowers
Kyle Rivas/Getty ImagesReleasing cornerback Brandon Flowers will create some cap space, and depth problems, for the Chiefs.
The Chiefs released him anyway, saving $7.5 million this year against the salary cap and another $7.5 against their cap next year. They will need that cap room if they sign quarterback Alex Smith and linebacker Justin Houston to contract extensions.

But Flowers wasn't a luxury for the Chiefs, given their current state at cornerback. They will pay a price for acquiring that cap room, and the only question is how hefty the bill will be.

At cornerback the Chiefs are left with only veteran Sean Smith as a proven commodity, and though Smith is an adequate starter, he's not a No. 1. Their other starter in the offseason has been Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round draft pick last year by the San Francisco 49ers. The Chiefs grabbed him off waivers at the start of last season and he played well for a time as their third cornerback.

By season's end, his play had deteriorated to the point that the Chiefs felt compelled to move him to the bench.

The other cornerbacks currently contending for playing time are Ron Parker, a journeyman who has been beaten several times in offseason practice, Chris Owens, a 5-9 nickelback and rookie Phillip Gaines, a third-round draft pick who so far has shown little.

That is not a great mix, so despite some of the hard times Flowers had last season, this move doesn't make the Chiefs any better. Flowers to an extent forced the Chiefs to make the move, with his holdout. Next week's mandatory minicamp was looming, and the Chiefs evidently tired of the situation.

That is behind the timing of the move, and the cap savings won't hurt, either. But the Chiefs will still feel some pain. It will come as they try to cover for his loss and as they watch him play well for some other team in 2014 and beyond.

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