Kansas City Chiefs OTAs: Latest Player Reports and Analysis
A lot of attention is likely to be paid to wide receivers and offensive linemen during the Kansas City Chiefs OTAs. Both positions have become areas of concern post free agency and the 2014 NFL draft.
At wide receiver the concern is a lack of fresh faces at a position many believe to be one of the weakest on the roster. In the trenches the problem is a little different.
A strong group was depleted by three players defecting to new teams during free agency. How well a new-look front five can cope without Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz will determine the success of Kansas City's season.
While the state of those two positions are worrying questions for Chiefs fans to ponder, one other issue is actually cause for excitement. It involves how best to use a dynamic and versatile rookie.
That has been one of the main points of focus during Kansas City's rookie minicamp. Here are some other areas to watch closely when the team's OTAs begin in earnest on May 27.
How Will Andy Reid Use De'Anthony Thomas?
When head coach Andy Reid selected De'Anthony Thomas in Round 4, he added a true multipurpose weapon to his offense. The question now becomes how does Reid use Thomas best?
The former Oregon speedster can flip-flop between running back and wide receiver. He is a "Joker" in the pack in the way previous pint-sized pace merchant Dexter McCluster was.
Rookie minicamp has helped provide some clues about where Reid ultimately sees Thomas being the most value to his offense. ESPN.com reporter Adam Teicher noted the 5'9", 174-pound do-it-all ace spent a lot of time at one particular position:
The Chiefs continued to utilize De'Anthony Thomas in a variety of spots but he received more work as a wide receiver than he did on Saturday. Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick, still lined up plenty of times as a running back. Though he could get some work there when the regular season begins, I still don't see how the Chiefs will get much out of him as a running back. First, the Chiefs are loaded there with Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis. Life is also not just difficult for 5-9, 175-pound running backs, but also the teams that utilize them. Until such a time comes that the Chiefs move Thomas to receiver full-time, running backs coach Eric Bieniemy will work Thomas hard. Bieniemy yelled at Thomas to finish on several plays Thomas thought were over. Bieniemy did the same thing with other backs, but not as often as with Thomas.
Teicher's point about how Thomas will find it tough to crack a rushing rotation already stacked with talent is a good one. It's also worth remembering that when the Chiefs allowed McCluster to jump ship to the Tennessee Titans, they waved goodbye to 53 receptions.
McCluster was a key part of the underneath passing attack as well as Reid's famously creative screen game. Rookie minicamp has established a pattern with Thomas that is likely to continue during OTAs.
Expect the fourth-rounder to continue getting a lot of work as a roving pass-catcher.
Can A.J. Jenkins Emerge as a Credible No. 2 Receiver?
One player to keep a close eye on during OTAs is wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. The former 2012 first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers arrived in a trade late last season but showed only glimpses of his obvious talent.
Yet there has to be a reason why the Chiefs stood pat at wide receiver in both free agency and the draft. Perhaps Reid and general manager John Dorsey are counting on this frustrating 6'0", 200-pounder finally coming good.
That might have to be the plan, given the paucity of marquee talent at this position. Jenkins has the speed to be a major factor in an offense geared to create yards after the catch.
Of course, that depends on him improving paper mache-like hands. It will also require more concentration when running the type of shallow slants Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson love to attack with.
When Dwayne Bowe is still the primary receiver, this team is crying out for more impact from other members of the rotation. If Jenkins can't make the grade once OTAs begin, his pro career could be doomed.
Eric Fisher Needs a Strong 2nd Season
Speaking of draft busts or at least a potential bust, Eric Fisher has to be under pressure to deliver a strong second season. The nimble offensive tackle was the first player selected in the 2013 NFL draft but didn't exactly meet expectations.
In fairness to the ex-Central Michigan star, it didn't help that he was shifted from the left side to the right. But Fisher won't have that excuse to lean on in 2014.
Reid has already declared 2013's top pick will be the team's left tackle, per Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star. That is likely to be a high-pressure spot given the quality of pass-rushers in the AFC West.
Fisher will have to contend with players such as Dwight Freeney, Melvin Ingram, DeMarcus Ware and Khalil Mack. That has to be a worry, considering some of Fisher's issues as a rookie.
He was identified as the most disappointing prominent first-year player of 2013, by Sports Illustrated scribe Chris Burke:
Slotted into the starting lineup immediately at right tackle, Fisher has allowed six sacks and 32 QB hurries this season, both team-highs, and often has looked overmatched against the speed and power he sees from opposing edge-rushers.
The Chiefs would love Fisher to develop into a long-term stalwart on the line with an eventual move to left tackle. Right now, he’s no closer to securing that future than he is to losing his job in 2014 or ’15.
Fisher is beginning preparations for his second year by coming off shoulder and hernia surgeries, according to Pro Football Talk reporter Michael David Smith.
The pressure is certainly on Fisher. His performances during offseason workouts will be some of the most closely scrutinized on the team.
Brandon Flowers Must Prove He Can Fit the Scheme
Brandon Flowers has a lot to do to prove he shouldn't be traded. Primarily, the 28-year-old cover man needs to use OTAs to show he can fit the current defensive scheme.
Flowers was mooted as a trade candidate earlier this month by Bleacher Report columnist Dan Pompei. The trade noise has gone quiet since the Chiefs weren't able to attract an interested party during the draft process.
But that hasn't convinced league pundits Flowers won't still end up on the trading block. NFL.com writer Chris Wesseling has Flowers third on a list of 10 candidates to be traded this summer.
Wesseling cites Flowers' difficulty adjusting to the coverage concepts favored by current defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. Flowers enjoyed success in the zone scheme utilized by previous coordinator and one-time head coach Romeo Crennel.
That system allowed Flowers to use some off-coverage techniques that played to his recognition skills and opportunism. But he looked out of place attempting to execute Sutton's press-based techniques in 2013.
Part of the problem is a lack of size. Standing a mere 5'9" and weighing just 187 pounds, Flowers lacks the frame to trap and rough up receivers at the line.
It's telling that the Chiefs favor 6'3", 218-pounder Sean Smith at the other starting position. The team also used a third-round pick on 6'0", 193-pound corner Phillip Gaines.
But Flowers struggled just as much because he missed the protection of Crennel's loose Cover 2 structure. Instead, Sutton deploys an aggressive yet risky single-high scheme where a lone safety covers the deep middle.
That means Flowers doesn't have as much license to gamble as when he had the security of a two-deep shell bracketing the outside coverage.
If Flowers can't show a greater comfort level with Sutton's playbook this offseason, those trade predictions are likely to come true.
Competition at Free Safety
Failings at the free safety position did as much to undermine Kansas City's 2013 campaign as any other factor. The team's attempts to find a solution at a key area of its defense will be an intriguing storyline during OTAs.
There are a few candidates who will vie to replace former starter, now departed free agent, Kendrick Lewis. Among them is Sanders Commings, a fifth-round pick as a cornerback in 2013.
Commings broke his collarbone early in his debut year and finished his rookie season on injured reserve. But at 6'0" and 223 pounds, Commings has safety size.
He was touted for the position in mid-January, per Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star. Paylor quoted NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who believes the Chiefs have viewed Commings as a safety all along: “I thought it was interesting. I was in Kansas City this summer for two days and he was a little banged up so I didn’t really get to see him, but I got the sense they liked him and felt like he could be a playmaking safety.”
Given the problems at this position a year ago, expect a lot of eyes to focus on Commings' efforts to get up to speed this offseason.