Kansas City Chiefs: Sanders Commings

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some observations from today's Kansas City Chiefs minicamp practice:
  • Rookie Zach Fulton, a sixth-round draft pick from Tennessee, continued his bid for a starting spot at right guard. Fulton split the starter's snaps with Rishaw Johnson. The Chiefs will get a better gauge on how advanced Fulton is at training camp, where they can wear full pads. But for now at least they are pleased with what they have seen from Fulton.
  • The Chiefs again practiced without linebacker Justin Houston, who is holding out, and cornerback Sean Smith, who is ill. Offensive tackle Donald Stephenson (calf), tight end Sean McGrath (knee) and cornerback Phillip Gaines (ankle) left practice early. Tackle Eric Fisher (shoulder), wide receivers Weston Dressler (hamstring) and Kyle Williams (knee) and tight end Travis Kelce (knee) participated only in individual and position drills. Left guard Jeff Allen moved to left tackle after Stephenson left practice.
  • Poe
    Nose tackle Dontari Poe made an impressive play for a big man. He began a pass rush but quickly sniffed out a screen pass. He hustled over to the receiver, Jamaal Charles, and trapped him in the backfield.
  • Tight end Anthony Fasano had a big day, making several catches.
  • Aaron Murray didn't get a lot of snaps at quarterback, but he made the throw of the day when he zipped a sideline throw to Deon Anthony that drew raves from his teammates.
  • Running back Knile Davis struggled to learn to catch kickoffs last season, but improved as the season progressed. But his old habit returned when he dropped one during a special teams drill.
  • Defensive back Sanders Commings got an interception when either quarterback Alex Smith threw a bad pass or wide receiver Donnie Avery ran the wrong route.
Here we'll finish a series that looks at five young Kansas City Chiefs players who need to make progress from where they were in 2013. Forget for a moment about the Chiefs getting help from free-agent or draft additions. If these players come through, the Chiefs will be in good shape in 2014.

Commings
We'll continue with safety Sanders Commings. At the first offseason practice last month, Commings played centerfield on a particular play like it never was for the Chiefs last season. Quarterback Tyler Bray floated a pass to the left sideline and Commings, playing the deep middle of the field, covered plenty of ground before intercepting the pass then going out of bounds.

Plays like that should earn Commings, a backup when practice started, a look as the starter. The Chiefs had been going with veteran Husain Abdullah, mostly a backup in his NFL career, as their starter.

As he showed when intercepting Bray's pass, Commings offers the Chiefs more big-play potential. That's something the Chiefs need more of from their free safety. The play of last year's starter, Kendrick Lewis, deteriorated as the season progressed and was a factor as the Chiefs wasted a 28-point third-quarter lead in their playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

A fifth-round draft pick last year, Commings was going to challenge for playing time as a rookie before breaking his collarbone during the first pracitce at training camp. The injury ruined his season but his presence was one reason the Chiefs didn't draft or sign a safety during the offseason.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some quick observations on the Kansas City Chiefs' first full-squad offseason practice:
  • The Chiefs went with veteran Frank Zombo instead of rookie Dee Ford in place of the absent Justin Houston as one of the starters at outside linebacker. Zombo started five games in place of the injured Houston last season and had two sacks and one interception. Marcus Cooper, the Chiefs' rookie of the year last season, started in place of Brandon Flowers at one of the cornerback spots. Houston and Flowers were missing from practice, which is voluntary. The only period during the offseason program with mandatory participation is the minicamp June 17-19.
  • The other new starters on defense were Allen Bailey (for the departed Tyson Jackson) at end, Joe Mays (for the departed Akeem Jordan) at linebacker and Husain Abdullah (for the departed Kendrick Lewis) at free safety.
  • Left tackle Eric Fisher didn't participate in the team portion of practice and tight end Travis Kelce didn't participate at all. Fisher had offseason surgeries to repair a balky shoulder and for a sports hernia and participated in individual drills. Right tackle Donald Stephenson moved into Fisher's spot with Jeff Linkenbach starting in Stephenson's usual place. Kelce, who missed all of his rookie season because of a knee ailment, is not a starter but the Chiefs are hopeful he can play a lot and be a productive receiver .
  • Sanders Commings is for now at least Abdullah's backup. But he showed free safety skills when he covered a lot of ground to intercept a Tyler Bray pass along the sideline.

Chiefs offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
10:00
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Kansas City Chiefs' offseason moves.

Best move: It wasn't a popular move for the Chiefs to allow five of last season's regulars to depart in the opening moments of free agency and another a few days later, but the Chiefs did the right thing in each case. The players are more valuable to their new teams, and Kansas City would have had to overpay to keep them. The Chiefs had also built enough depth to withstand the losses.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/John BazemoreAaron Murray's selection by the Chiefs is surprising, but Andy Reid has been known to develop QBs.
Riskiest move: The Chiefs failed to add a proven wide receiver, a decision they could easily come to regret later. They had one of the NFL's least productive groups of wide receivers last season and then lost slot receiver Dexter McCluster to free agency. They have hopes for improvement from young A.J. Jenkins and acquired CFL veteran Weston Dressler and speedy rookie De'Anthony Thomas, but their needs would have been better served by adding a player with proven production.

Most surprising move: The drafting of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was a reasonable gamble because it happened in the fifth round, but the Chiefs looked to be set at the position without him. They have their starter in Alex Smith, a veteran backup in Chase Daniel and a developmental prospect in Tyler Bray. But Murray appears to have the skills to succeed in the offense of coach Andy Reid, who has shown a nice touch in developing quarterbacks. The addition of Murray sets up an interesting training camp battle at the position.

Progress from young players: It's clear the Chiefs are counting on improvement from a group that includes three of last season's draft picks. Foremost is tackle Eric Fisher, who moves to the left side after a rocky rookie season on the right. Tight end Travis Kelce missed all of last season with a knee ailment after showing impressive receiving skills in the offseason and training camp. Sanders Commings also missed most of his rookie season with an injury but could wind up starting at free safety.
Here's another installment of our detailed look at the Kansas City Chiefs roster by position with a determination whether they improved or not since the end of last season. Keep in mind that the Chiefs can continue to make roster moves and could make significant additions or subtractions before they arrive at training camp. But the bulk of the roster they will take to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph is intact.

We'll continue here with the safeties.

End of 2013: Eric Berry, Kendrick Lewis, Quintin Demps, Husain Abdullah

Serious 2014 roster candidates: Berry, Abdullah, Sanders Commings, Jerron McMillian

Analysis: That the Chiefs passed on adding a safety through unrestricted free agency and the draft would indicate they're satisfied with either Commings or Abdullah starting along with Berry. Commings, a fifth-round draft pick last year, looked as if he was going to challenge for playing time last year before a broken collarbone suffered in training camp ruined his rookie season. Abdullah did a nice job for the Chiefs last season as a reserve, but he's been a backup most of his career for a reason. Whoever starts with Berry will play with a steadying influence and one of the NFL's best safeties. I listed McMillian as the fourth safety because he has a history with general manager John Dorsey when they were with the Green Bay Packers. But there's an opportunity for a younger player to claim a roster spot.

Better or worse? Worse. Too much uncertainty for my tastes. Lewis and Demps didn't play well, particularly toward the end of the season. But the Chiefs haven't improved just because they're gone.
Here is this week's edition of the Kansas City Chiefs mailbag. To ask a question for a future edition, send it to me via Twitter (@adamteicher) and tag it #ChiefsMail.

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Some notes from the opening of the Kansas City Chiefs' offseason program:

-- Chairman Clark Hunt said shortly before the Super Bowl that a contract extension for quarterback Alex Smith might take some time. He was right. Smith is still without the extension.

There's no urgency on the part of the Chiefs to get the deal done. Smith is under contract for this season and the Chiefs don't need to create room under the salary cap to get through this season.

A new deal sooner rather than later might benefit Smith, who had a nice first season for the Chiefs as their starting quarterback. He finished the season with a flourish. Smith's numbers got better over the second half of the season and then he completed 30 of 46 for 378 yards and four touchdowns in the playoff loss to Indianapolis.

"I had no date as far as expectation," Smith said. "I still have a year on my contract. I don't know when it will get done.

"I've played long enough, going into Year 10 now, it's all year to year in my mind anyway. You've got to continually prove yourself. I don't think it changes anything as far as my mindset or approach to the game at all."

-- In injury news other than that with tackle Eric Fisher, coach Andy Reid said running back Knile Davis didn't need surgery for his broken leg and has resumed his workouts. Reid indicated tight end Travis Kelce was in a similar situation after having surgery last year for a knee ailment. Reid also said defensive back Sanders Commings had a surgery for an injury he wouldn't specify but that Commings had been cleared for offseason work. Commings broke his collarbone during training camp last year, played in two games and was then placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

-- Wide receiver Kyle Williams, whose season ended in November with a torn ACL, re-signed with the Chiefs on a one-year contract. Given the timing of the injury, the Chiefs obviously can't expect much from Williams. His agent, Wynn Silberman, said Williams was hopeful of being able to participate in training camp.

-- Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was arrested for marijuana possession in November, but the case was resolved last week when he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of littering and defective equipment. The marijuana charge was dropped.

Bowe could still conceivably be suspended by the NFL, but Bowe said he believed that to be unlikely.

"I don't think so," Bowe said. "I pray I don't. I'm glad it's over and I'm ready to show everybody, to erase that memory in their heads and get back to playing football."
The Kansas City Chiefs drafted last year for the first time with John Dorsey as their general manager and Andy Reid as their head coach. This will be a much different draft for the Chiefs, who had four of the top 99 picks last year. They have just one of the top 86 this year.

But a look back can provide some idea of what the Chiefs can expect from this year’s draft.

 

The season behind: The Chiefs didn’t get much from this group when they were rookies. In fact, their rookie of the year was a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, cornerback Marcus Cooper. Fisher started 13 games at right tackle but his season wasn’t what could reasonably be expected from the first overall pick in the draft. His play was uneven at best, particularly earlier in the season. He struggled as a pass-blocker against stronger opponents and their power moves. He proved unreliable, missing three regular-season starts plus the playoff game with injuries ranging from shoulder to concussion to groin. The Chiefs were counting on productive playing time from Kelce and Commings before injuries cost them all of their rookie seasons. Kelce in the preseason developed a knee ailment that eventually required surgery. Commings broke his collarbone during the first practice of training camp. The Chiefs were hopeful Johnson could be a starter at inside linebacker, but a preseason injury set him back and he never made a serious challenge. Kush and Catapano were drafted as developmental players and that’s the role both settled into, though injuries forced the Chiefs to use Catapano at times and he showed some pass-rush ability. Wilson was a huge disappointment, even as a sixth-round pick. He was cut during the preseason and the Chiefs didn’t think enough of him to bring him back to their practice squad.

The seasons ahead: Fisher may be the only full-time player from this group again in 2014, but it’s reasonable to believe the Chiefs could still get some production from the others -- Wilson being the exception. The Chiefs are confident that despite his rocky debut season, Fisher will eventually become the player they envisioned when they drafted him. He will move over to left tackle after playing on the right side and should benefit greatly from an offseason in the Chiefs’ weight program. Commings could wind up as the starter at free safety if the Chiefs don’t draft a player to fill that position. Otherwise, the Chiefs will look for ways to get him on the field. He was going to challenge for playing time in their nickel defense last year before his injury. The Chiefs are eager to get Kelce involved in their passing game. He was very involved before his injury. The Chiefs lined him up in a variety of spots to best use his ability to get down the field and beat coverage to make catches. Davis became more involved as last season went on and should get more playing time this year, assuming the leg he broke in the playoff game allows him to and his fumbling habit doesn’t reappear. Eventually, Davis could be the replacement for Jamaal Charles. At 227 pounds, he’s bigger and more powerful than Charles and he’s fast for a player his size. He probably won’t ever give the Chiefs what Charles delivered as a pass receiver last season. It speaks to what the Chiefs think of Johnson that one of their first moves in free agency was to sign veteran Joe Mays to be a starter at inside linebacker. Johnson may be a special-teamer for whatever remains of his Chiefs career. Catapano may never develop into a full-time player but his ability as a pass-rusher gives him a shot at a lesser role. Similarly, Kush may continue to be a backup, but watch what the Chiefs do with starting center Rodney Hudson, who is scheduled to become a free agent next year. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Chiefs, Kush could inherit the spot if he develops as the Chiefs hope.

Best pick: As expected for the first overall pick, Fisher should become this draft’s best player. Despite his struggles last season, he frequently showed the athletic ability a great offensive tackle needs. But Kelce should eventually become the best pick from a value standpoint. He could become the Chiefs’ best pass receiver at tight end since the traded Tony Gonzalez.

Worst pick: Since Wilson couldn’t hang around until the end of his rookie preseason, he has to qualify, for now. The others still have a chance to be productive players. But the situation doesn’t look good for Johnson, either. As an inside linebacker, he would be a part-time player, coming out of the game on passing downs. But the Chiefs evidently believe he’s not advanced enough to handle it yet.
The notion of building a team though the NFL draft and using free agency as a mere supplemental tool is a proven one. The NFL teams that have been successful over long periods during the free-agency era have generally used this method.

But it puts a lot of pressure on a team to get things right each year through the draft. It doesn’t have to get one or more eventual Pro Bowlers every year, but the teams that do in this way certainly can't afford to whiff in the draft, any draft.

Judging from their words and this year's actions, the Kansas City Chiefs plan on being one of those teams. That’s fine, but they had better use their six draft picks to maximum an advantage.

ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadiha takes it a step further in his latest column, suggesting no NFL team needs to get it right in this year’s draft more than the Chiefs. Chadiha writes that if the Chiefs don’t find more difference-makers, they’re primed to slide backward next season after winning 11 games and making the playoffs last year.

It's impossible to argue with that. Given the way the Chiefs wobbled the last half of last season, it was obvious they would need an upgrade at some key spots for this year. Not only has that yet to happen, but the Chiefs have watched as many of their competitors, including division rivals Denver and Oakland, loaded up.

But with just six picks and only one in the top 86, immediate expectations for this year’s draft should be minimal. Because of that, last year’s draft is more important to 2014 success for the Chiefs than this year’s crop of rookies.

As Chadiha noted, last year’s draft picks were disappointing as a group. The Chiefs' rookie of the year was Marcus Cooper, a cornerback they pulled off waivers at the beginning of the regular season, and not one of their own eight selections.

For the Chiefs to go anywhere in 2014, their 2013 rookies have to get better. Tackle Eric Fisher needs to play a lot more like the first overall pick in the draft. What running back Knile Davis gave them late last season, he needs to give all season. Tight end Travis Kelce and defensive back Sanders Commings have to overcome the injuries that ruined their rookie seasons and be the players the Chiefs envisioned when they drafted them.

If this happens, then the 2014 Chiefs can prosper without much immediate help from their rookies. If not, it might not matter how the Chiefs fare in this year’s draft.
A potential starter at free safety eluded the Kansas City Chiefs this week when veteran Danieal Manning signed with the Cincinnati Bengals before he could make his free-agent visit to Kansas City. Manning will be 32 in August, so he wouldn't have been the long-term solution at free safety the Chiefs might have preferred. But there was obviously an interest on their part, so the Chiefs might have taken Manning as a one-year solution.

Commings
Abdullah
Many fans no doubt look at their seeming lack of urgency in finding a replacement for departed free agent Kendrick Lewis to be puzzling and frsutrating. I say it suggests they have a plan. That plan could be to land a free safety in the draft. Perhaps there's a safety still on a roster around the league they believe will eventually come available and they will act then.

More likely, their next starting free safety is already on their roster. In that case, the legitimate candidates are few. More than one fan has suggested to me they intend to move cornerback Brandon Flowers to free safety. Regardless of the wisdom of that move, the Chiefs would have been more aggressive in finding a new starter at cornerback if that was in their plans.

The Chiefs re-signed veteran Husain Abdullah, who quietly had a nice season for them as a backup last year. Abdullah was a starter for the Minnesota Vikings in 2010 and again for a half-season in 2011. He's a versatile player with some pass-coverage skills, so he can't be dismissed as a possibility.

A more likely scenario has the Chiefs going with Sanders Commings as their free safety. He was a fifth-round draft pick last season and impressed the Chiefs in offseason practice to the point where he was going to challenge for playing time.

Commings then broke his collarbone in the first practice at training camp, effectively ending his rookie season. Make no mistake that the Chiefs like Commings and intend to find some playing time for him, whether that's at safety or elsewhere in their secondary.

"One of the reasons we drafted Sanders Commings is because we thought he fit that positional skill," general manager John Dorsey recently said of how the Chiefs might fill their free safety spot.
On to this week's questions for the Kansas City Chiefs mailbag:

Moving day for many Chiefs?

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
8:00
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The free-agent signing period begins Tuesday, and as of now the Chiefs have yet to re-sign any of their significant free agents. The parade appears to be lining up at the exit door. Left tackle Branden Albert is at the front, as he reportedly has already agreed on a contract with the Miami Dolphins. Receiver/punt returner Dexter McCluster, offensive linemen Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz and linebacker Akeem Jordan could be right behind him.

The Chiefs have attempted to re-sign defensive end Tyson Jackson, and that could still happen. But the Chiefs didn't appear confident in that happening. They had arranged a free-agent meeting with defensive end Red Bryant before he signed last week with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Free safety Kendrick Lewis has been a longtime starter and is also a potential unrestricted free agent. But the Chiefs may be ready to move on from him.

The Chiefs have some money to spend in free agency and draft picks to use on potential replacements. In some cases they've already prepared for the eventuality of losing some of these free agents. They drafted tackle Eric Fisher in the first round last year knowing this day with Albert would probably come this year. They signed Weston Dressler of the Canadian Football League hoping he could be the next McCluster. Last year they drafted linebacker Nico Johnson and defensive back Sanders Commings, and they are possible replacements for Jordan and Lewis.

That doesn't mean this isn't an meaningful day for the Chiefs. With the exception of Jordan and Schwartz, who were signed to one-year, free-agent contracts last year, these players didn't join the Chiefs as stopgap players but as those they could build around. Albert and Jackson are former first-round draft picks. McCluster was drafted in the second round, Asamoah in the third, Lewis in the fifth.

More importantly, many should be heading into their prime seasons. Albert will turn 30 in November but plays a position where he could retain his skills for the life of the new contract he will sign. Jackson is 27; McCluster, Asamoah and Lewis are 25.

If they're all out the door at a single time, that's a hefty blow to the Chiefs. They made plenty of progress in the past year, going from two wins in 2012 to 11 victories and the playoffs in 2013. Continuing on that track will be difficult enough but perhaps impossible if they lose this entire group of players.

If the Chiefs fall back to the pack in 2014, they may look back on this day as a big reason why.
On to this week's questions for the Kansas City Chiefs mailbag (@adamteicher):

 

Free-agency primer: Chiefs

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: T Branden Albert, G Jon Asamoah, DE Tyson Jackson, LB Akeem Jordan, FS Kendrick Lewis, WR/PR Dexter McCluster, G Geoff Schwartz

Where they stand: The Chiefs need help at wide receiver but may prefer to do their shopping at this position through the draft after having made a sizable financial commitment to Dwayne Bowe last year. The Chiefs have the depth at tackle to withstand the likely loss of Albert, but they'll need to do some shopping if Asamoah and Schwartz, who split time as the starter at right guard last season, depart. On defense, the Chiefs could use another big body for their defensive line, particularly if Jackson leaves as a free agent. A replacement who can be an upgrade over Lewis is another priority. Sanders Commings, a rookie last season, could potentially fill that spot. Whether the Chiefs actively pursue a veteran there could depend on how they feel about Commings' ability to handle the position.

What to expect: The Chiefs should have about $9.6 million in salary-cap space, which is one of the lowest totals in the league and probably won't allow them to win many bidding wars. Even if the Chiefs had the cap room and were so inclined, this isn't a great crop of free-agent wide receivers. Seattle's Golden Tate might make sense for the Chiefs, but only if the price doesn't get out of hand. The Chiefs could look to division rival Denver for guard Zane Beadles if they need a starter to replace Asamoah and Schwartz. Seattle's Red Bryant could be a fit at defensive end if the Chiefs don't re-sign Jackson. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd is exactly what Kansas City is looking for at free safety, but he will likely be out of its price range. If the Chiefs go safety shopping, they might go for a lower-priced option, like Miami's Chris Clemons.

Free-agent report: FS Kendrick Lewis

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
7:30
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The series on potential Kansas City Chiefs free agents continues with a look at a long-time starter in the secondary.

FS Kendrick Lewis

Four NFL seasons, four with the Chiefs. Will be 26 when next season begins.

Lewis
Chiefs career: Lewis has started all but three of the 53 games in which he’s played for the Chiefs. A fifth-round pick in 2010, he joined the Chiefs at the same time as Eric Berry and when they had a need at safety. Lewis played well as a rookie, but that was the best season of his NFL career. Lewis was always average at best against the run, but his pass coverage sharply declined over the course of his career. Lewis started off last season playing well, but his game hit a wall in the middle of the season and it never recovered. A shoulder injury caused him to miss seven games in 2012, and though he had surgery at the end of that season, he never quite seemed the same player after that.

Argument for keeping Lewis: This is a difficult one. He has experience, certainly more than Sanders Commings or any rookie the Chiefs might draft to play free safety. He’s still young and could get back to what he was earlier in his career. But that also could be wishful thinking.

Argument for letting Lewis go: The Chiefs allowed one long pass play after another last season, and though Lewis wasn’t solely to blame, he had a big hand in that. His range simply doesn’t appear to be what it was earlier in his career. That was evident on the long Andrew Luck-to-T.Y. Hilton touchdown pass that beat the Chiefs in the playoffs last season. It’s impossible to believe the Chiefs wouldn’t be better off with Commings or a rookie at free safety. They would be getting a younger and probably more productive player at a lesser cost.

What should happen: This might be the easiest call for the Chiefs with regard to any of their six regulars who are free agents. Pro Football Focus recently ranked the top 10 free-agent safeties and Lewis isn’t on their list. That, among plenty of others, is a sign the Chiefs need to upgrade at free safety.

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