The Sports Xchange
NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - INSIDE SLANT
When they begin training camp practice July 24 at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo., the Kansas City Chiefs do not want to pick up where they left off last season.
They will prefer to play back to the level that took them to a 9-0 start in 2013 rather than their 2-5 stretch run. But the players are certain they have what it takes, especially in coach Andy Reid.
"We got the best coaches in the league and nobody wants to go back to what we had before they got here," veteran wide receiver Dwayne Bowe said of Reid and his staff. "We know what we are capable of doing and we know that with coach Andy he will make us able to do even more."
They must do it against a much tougher schedule than they faced last season, and without the surprise element that allowed them to get out to that great start, before the monumental second-half collapse in the first-round of the playoffs against Indianapolis.
That 45-44 loss, where they blew a 28-point lead with 28 minutes to play, is not forgotten amongst veteran Chiefs. That's especially true for outside linebacker Tamba Hali who over his first eight seasons with the Chiefs has played in just three postseason games, going 0-3.
"That one will sit with us throughout this year and throughout the games," Hali said. "That will sit with us because we definitely have something to prove. To lose a game like that - our fans know it, our players know it, the guys that have been here and the coaches know it - it's hard for them to continue to do what they're doing, knowing they put so much into it and things turned around like that? It will sit with us and help us go through this season."
There will be new starters on both sides of the ball, with Husain Abdullah moving into the free safety spot and likely Marcus Cooper taking over for the released Brandon Flowers at left cornerback. Journeyman Joe Mays will work at middle linebacker and former third-round pick Allen Bailey looks like the new starter at left defensive end.
On the other side of the ball, the offensive line will be different, losing three of the team's first six blockers from last season. The 2013 NFL No. 1 draft choice Eric Fisher is moving from right to left tackle. Donald Stephenson will handle the right side. There's a wide-open battle for the right-guard job and there's a chance this year's sixth-round draft choice Zach Fulton will earn the spot.
Here are some of the more entertaining issues to follow during the Chiefs' training camp:
KEY POSITION BATTLE
--Right guard: Last season, the starting job was shared between Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz, but both left as unrestricted free agents - Asamoah signed in Atlanta, Schwartz with the New York Giants.
In the first OTA session, Rishaw Johnson was in the starting lineup. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Johnson has played in just three games after spending practice-squad time with Seattle (2012) and the Chiefs (2013). He has the road-grader physique the Chiefs are looking for when opening running room for Jamaal Charles and pass protection for Alex Smith.
If Johnson falters, others that may get a shot at the job are Rokevious Watkins, a 2012 fifth-round selection by St. Louis, plus this year's sixth-round draft choices by the Chiefs -- Zach Fulton out of Georgia and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif from McGill University in Canada.
--WIDE RECEIVER: The Chiefs have 12 wide receivers on the 90-man roster. Six have played at least one NFL game, but only two have more than 50 league appearances -- Dwayne Bowe (103) and Donnie Avery (71). Last season, the wide receivers accounted for 52 percent of the team's passing offense, with Bowe and Avery producing ordinary performances with just seven touchdown catches total and averaged only 13.1 yards per catch (91 receptions, 1,269 yards).
The Chiefs needed to be active adding receivers in free agency and the draft. Slot receiver Dexter McCluster signed with Tennessee in free agency. But the closest Kansas City came was selecting University of Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas in the fifth round and he will play everywhere in head coach Andy Reid's offense, including wide receiver.