What to watch for as training camp nears

Every NFL season is a completely new venture. Free agency, retirement, rookies, and cap casualties are among some of the reasons no teams will simply pick up and continue the previous season. With the Chiefs starting training camp less than a week away, let’s take a look at some things to keep an eye on for as the summer wraps up and the regular season draws closer.

The Chiefs are a solid team who appear motivated to start a “take it back” tour to reach yet another Super Bowl. However, this season will be different than last season and the Super Bowl-winning season of two years ago. The last game we saw the Chiefs play was a debacle on the biggest stage in professional sports, and this off-season Brett Veach looked to address issues that led to that disappointing collapse.

As we approach the start of training camp, let’s review some of the off-season events that could shape the season and the Chief’s quest to make a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

It is difficult to not go directly to the most recent and still pending issue the Chiefs are facing, Frank Clark. I will not take up much space injecting my two cents regarding anyone’s right to own a gun. I’m not a gun guy, which is fine. Frank Clark is a gun guy, also fine. The problem is when you aren’t responsible and, in this case, Frank had a responsibility to know the laws regarding his firearms.

Now, perhaps a single issue could be an oversight, but two incidents in one off-season is problematic. The Frank Clark situation leaves the Chiefs with an expensive contract for a supposedly top-tier player mired in uncertainty. The question is how are the Chiefs going to address the uncertainty and how will this affect a team with a front-loaded schedule?

It seems beyond reasonable that Frank Clark will miss time. How much time and when the Chiefs front office will be made aware, we are not sure. Reports suggest any true legal action will not take place until October, will the NFL act before then? The obvious solution was to add 32-year-old Melvin Ingram, they chose not to make that move and Ingram is now a Pittsburgh Steeler.

The Chiefs hosted Ingram for a visit and numerous media outlets continue to suggest the Chiefs “could” revisit potentially adding him to the roster. So, now that he has signed elsewhere leaves me to wonder why they didn’t make that move and will that have an effect on the season? Given the condition of Tom Brady’s uniform after the Super Bowl beatdown, the pass rush is a concern.

When one of your most important players at an important position is in doubt, why wait and what could the potential fall-out be with Clark potentially not available for several weeks? Welcome back Alex Okafor, returning after two seasons and nine starts with Kansas City.

Is this a move to counter Clark’s potential pending suspension? Can this move counter missing Clark for several weeks?

Of course, former fan favorite Justin Houston remains unsigned as well. Additionally, the Chiefs must have great hope for Mike Danna and Taco Charlton? Two players I personally like, but will the Chiefs have the DL they need to get pressure on the QB and take the pressure off the secondary without Clark? This will certainly be an issue for Chiefs fans to monitor as we move into training camp and the inevitable kick-off of the latest effort to grasp the Lombardi.

Next up on the list is the very new offensive line unit. Anchored by the veteran presence of newly acquired Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown Jr., the Chiefs have some question marks at center and on the right side of the line. There remains the potential that Patrick Mahomes takes his first snap week #1 protected by possibly four new linemen. With the early schedule the Chiefs are looking at, there will be little time after camp breaks to gel.

This line needs to figure out the schemes, and they need to do it quickly. This is a tall order when you bring in one new player into a position group, and the Chiefs are looking at possibly a whole new line. A topic of interest during camp will be the status of Mike Remmers and the return of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Remmers holding the distinction of the only player with a possibility of starting that played for the Chiefs last season. Duvernay-Tardif, of course heroically opting out to help battle Covid-19 on the front lines in Canada, returns after a year off. His conditioning in camp will be interesting to note.

With so much movement on the O-line, Austin Blythe has become almost a side-note of a signing for the Chiefs. One time the heir apparent to be snapping to Mahomes, could that role fall to a rookie? The need for starting the season as a cohesive unit is further complicated by the rookies, Niang (2020 opt-out), Smith, and Humphrey need to absorb a complex offensive scheme if they are to compete for a starting role or be needed in case of injury. This being a positional group the Chiefs are well aware of the cost of injuries.

Speaking of injuries to the O-line, the Chiefs couldn’t even escape OTAs without losing a lineman as Kyle Long’s injury will clearly be problematic well into the regular season. This group and its ability to come together quickly as a cohesive unit to protect PM15 will be one of the biggest factors in the Chiefs’ success this season. If we learned anything last season, if this group fails to deliver, the Chiefs will hit a brick wall that will end any hope of hoisting a banner.

Next up, Bashaud Breeland and Sammy Watkins found new homes for a new season. Two veterans whose absence could prove problematic. The Chiefs do not win Super Bowl LIV without their contributions and now both have moved on with no real concern from the Chiefs front office. It seemed quite clear moving into the off-season that Sammy was not returning to the Chiefs, but the surprising part is that the Chiefs do not appear to have a true #2 receiver waiting to take over that role.

Hardman and Pringle have an opportunity, but as of today are they in that role on any other NFL team? A camp injury could relegate the receiving corps from a strength to a weakness. Speaking of weakness, how will the CBs fair minus a sometimes frustrating, yet competent Breeland? Clearly, he was affordable, yet the front office appeared to have zero interest in his veteran presence in the secondary.

Cornerback, and the Chiefs approach to the position, has been a most interesting case study over the years. It appears, season after season, that the Chiefs are not interested in really investing in the group. Resigned to over-the-hill free agents or washed-up veterans (Scandrick was the worst). This season will see Ward line-up next to the 2nd year draft steal Sneed.

Beyond that, the group falls off quickly. We experienced a very brief flash from DeAndre Baker before his injury and then we have the likes of Hughes, Fenton, and Keyes. This is another group that needs to make it to week #1 as healthy as they are today or any pass rush concerns will be even more problematic.

Honorable mention of the pre-camp concern is Tyrann Mathieu and the lack of a contract extension. The Honey Badger is as motivated as they come on game day, which, among other reasons is why I had hoped to see this deal get done by now. He deserves the extension and he needs to retire a Chief. I am not sure there was a player that willed the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory more than Mathieu.

The sheer force of his commitment to this team and playing football is as rare as PM15. He has stated publicly that he can’t see wearing another uniform and the Chiefs clearly wish to keep him. Why not get this taken care of and have one less issue to contend with? Obviously, the cap after the Covid season was a concern, but Veach is the master of all things cap space, he needs to be signed to an extension.

The off-season decisions made by a team have far-reaching consequences to where a team ends up in January. Brett Veach made moves and every player that became available left us wondering if Veach would grab them too. As camp starts leading up to Week #1 and beyond we will see what those moves and of equal (if not more so) importance moves that weren’t made will mean for the quest to return to a third consecutive Super Bowl.