For any team with a new regime, change is bound to happen. Add to that a 2-14 record the previous season, and it is safe to reason that no incumbent player is safe from a demotion.
“We want competition,” head coach Todd Haley said, “in as many positions as we can.”
Aside from QB Matt Cassel, whom GM Scott Pioli and Todd Haley personally brought in, every position is up for review.
Last year, the special teams was anything but special. The coverage units ranked near the bottom in both punt and kickoff returns, came in dead last in opponent's average starting point for drives, and missed the most field goals. As a result, many of the position battles found in the Chiefs training camp will be special teams positions.
Punt and Kick Returner
The Chiefs drafted wide receiver Quinten Lawrence out of McNeese State for the very reason of fixing special teams. Lawrence has game-breaking speed and is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
“I’ve told everyone here that if you can be a better-than-average punt and kick returner, you’ve got a very good chance to make this team," Haley said. "I don’t know if we have one right now."
At Lawrence's pro day, he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash time, even with an undisclosed injury. He also put up 21 reps of 225 lbs. on the bench press, good for fourth place for wideouts at the combine.
Lawrence could be the odds-on favorite to win the punt and kick return duties simply because he was brought in by the current regime, but several people will be in the running.
Dantrell Savage, who shared the returning duties last year, is a very quick, shifty runner who is capable of making mincemeat out of would-be tacklers. He also has good straight-line speed, running a 4.40 forty-yard dash time coming out of college.
Despite Savage’s experience returning the ball last year, my guess is that Lawrence will win out at this position; he returned one punt his senior year, and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown.
Another special teams position up for grabs is that of place kicker. Connor Barth played well as a rookie last year, making 10-of-12 field goal attempts, with one from beyond 50 yards.
The Chiefs, making the Mr. Irrelevant pick of this year's draft, selected kicker Ryan Succop out of South Carolina.
Succop is a kicker with a big leg and will immediately show the coaching staff this during kickoffs. The question will be whether he can regain the accuracy he showed prior to his senior-season injury, when he was hitting close to 80 percent of his field goal attempts. Last year he hit just 20-of-30, which is the reason he dropped so far in the draft.
Even with Barth showing good promise last year, Succop will probably be the one that makes the team. He has the big leg for both long field goals and kickoffs, and has the characteristic GM Scott Pioli loves in his players—versatility. Succop also punted while in college and would be valuable should current punter Dustin Colquitt go down with an injury.
GM Scott Pioli hand picked the future of this position for the Chiefs with his first two draft picks—Tyson Jackson and Alex Magee. For the time being though, only Jackson has the skills to immediately start, and he probably will do just that.
It's the other defensive end spot where all the action will occur. Several candidates will be in the running, including last year's No. 5 overall pick Glenn Dorsey, Magee, and Alphonso Boone.
Glenn Dorsey is a very athletic, disruptive defensive lineman that loves to get into the backfield and bother the quarterback. This is a little bit of a problem since the gap responsibilities in the 3-4 dictate the defensive end eat up blocks and be a run stuffer. The good news is Dorsey is athletic and smart enough to pick up any scheme.
Magee played both defensive tackle and defensive end in college and should pick up the defensive end responsibilities quickly, but probably not in time for the start of this season. Look for him to start across from Jackson in a year or two.
Alphonso Boone is a natural defensive tackle who played some defensive end last year for Herm Edwards. Having played both positions, he has experience both playing in space and taking up blockers. This makes him a prime candidate for the defensive end position in the 3-4 defense.
While Alphonso Boone is probably better suited for this position with his skill set and experience, my bet is on Glenn Dorsey to win this position. He's younger and a quick learner, but more importantly, management doesn't pay a player $51 million to ride the pine.
This will be one of the most important position battles going on in camp this year. This is the position most responsible for providing pressure on the quarterback. One of these spots will be taken by Mike Vrabel who was brought in from New England, but the other, like defensive end, is wide open.
Tamba Hali and Turk McBride are being converted into linebackers in order to compete for this position, as well as current linebackers Demarrio Williams and Monty Beisel.
Turk McBride was an athletic defensive end, but wasn't terribly quick. This might be his downfall when transitioning to linebacker, as his ability to change direction is not what it needs to be. More than likely, he will be a solid backup that can come in and make sound tackles.
Tamba Hali has been a do-it-all defensive end for the Chiefs since he was drafted, but is more of a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none player. He is not especially quick, and switching to outside linebacker where he would have to drop back into coverage, could be a little difficult. He definitely will be an asset rushing the passer, but being an all-around linebacker might be a little dicey.
Demarrio Williams is a quick linebacker that can tackle well. He has the change of direction skills necessary to play in space, but tipping the scales at only 235 pounds, he's about 20 or 30 pounds lighter than the traditional outside linebacker in the 3-4. However, James Harrison of the Steelers weighs only slightly more than Williams, and he was the Super Bowl MVP, so not everything can be predicted by measurables.
Monty Beisel being in consideration for the starting position just shows the complete lack of depth the Chiefs have. Frankly he is too slow, and tackles too poorly to start for most teams.
Tamba Hali will at the very least come in during passing situations to solely rush the passer, but I have faith in his ability to transition to standing up fairly smoothly. He has great work ethic, and will benefit from not having to worry about offensive lineman as much. Demarrio Williams also has an outside chance to win this starting spot if he shines in camp.
The only certainty going in to camp is that competition will be prevalent. The new regime has made it extremely clear that they want players who want to be a Chief, and they want players who are going to work very hard. Scott Pioli has said several times that it's not necessarily about the best 53 players, but about the right 53 players.