5 Biggest Takeaways from the Kansas City Chiefs' OTAs
OTAs are summertime trailers hyping the fall's biggest blockbuster. They are three- and four-day-long Q&A sessions that offer a glimpse into the mind of a head coach and interludes between offseason speculation and preseason realities.
Despite watching them every year, they're short films that grow in relevance because they never supply the same endings.
As for the Kansas City Chiefs? With a year notched in Andy Reid's system, Alex Smith and his supporting cast now know what to expect entering 2014.
Heading into OTAs, a number of mysteries riddled the Chiefs roster. Who's the starting free safety? How are the wideouts looking? What about the rookies? And OTAs wouldn't be OTAs without the Twitter-flooding contract talks.
Finally, facts are bumping rumors to the backseat, and this year's 53-man puzzle is beginning to take shape.
5. Husain Abdullah Is Making a Name for Himself
Far and away, the best re-signing of the Chiefs offseason was Husain Abdullah.
For whatever reason, he didn't receive a significant amount of snaps until the home stretch of 2013. But when stepping onto the field, he made the most of his opportunities.
Randy Covitz of The Kansas City Star writes:
Abdullah, too, was a free agent at the end of last season, but even if Lewis had not left for the Houston Texans, he wanted to stay with the Chiefs.
“I’m not a fortune teller,” said Abdullah, who signed a two-year contract. “(General manager John) Dorsey and Coach (Andy) Reid were the first ones to give me a call … they’re being aware of who I am and of me as a person and not just another guy. … It was a place where they wanted to give me a shot and I wanted a shot.”
While Abdullah was listed as a free safety last season, he was primarily deployed on the line in press man or within the box as a nickel or dime defender in zone.
This season, it appears that the 28-year-old will assume the same role but with a touch of two-deep- and single-high coverage as well. Eric Berry, meanwhile, is also seeing snaps in Kendrick Lewis' former role.
The Pro Bowler Berry, per KCChiefs.com, added, "Whether they have to swap me and Husain, or if they have to move me somewhere else and move him somewhere else, I think we’re all prepared to be wherever we need to be."
He also noted that he, Abdullah and the rest of the secondary are spending time outside of practice to polish their communication skills.
One thing is certain: Abdullah's wild-card effort left a lasting impression on a number of local minds, as Andrew Luck was victimized by two picks and a 20.8 passer rating when targeting No. 39, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
From the looks of it, he's picking off and picking up the pace he set in the playoffs.
4. Alex Smith Is Head-and-Shoulders Above Quarterbacking Cohorts
A year ago, fans chastised John Dorsey for handing Dwayne Bowe a spare key to the vault. However, people tend to see things one-sided.
Nearly all of last season's (marquee) free-agent wideouts were overpaid or had disappointing seasons. And if you think that Kansas City's receiving corps is atrocious now, take Bowe off the roster and ask Donnie Avery how life's going after the first week.
The same scenario applies to Alex Smith.
That being said, at some point, both sides will cave in (to varying degrees), and a deal will get inked.
Why? Take your local 2014 predictions and then insert Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray or Aaron Murray into a starting role for 16 weeks. The same falloff will hold water for at least the next two to three years.
Good luck with that, captain.
Put it this way: when it comes to QB play so far, there’s a large gap between Alex Smith and the next guys (as it should be).— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) June 3, 2014
Smith has laced balls with pinpoint accuracy throughout the OTAs. The rest of the passing ensemble can't say the same.
OLB Dee Ford’s first play in team drills was an interception off Aaron Murray. Ford later abused OT Laurent Duvernay-Tardif on a swim move.— Herbie Teope (@HerbieTeope) May 24, 2014
Obviously, a handful of mistakes aren't reason enough to pound the panic button and pull the plug on the trio's respective careers, especially in the cases of Bray and Murray. Errors are expected.
Daniel didn't touch down in Kansas City with starting expectations. Errors are expected.
In large part, they're not for Smith, though, and that's because he has penned a track record of avoiding them.
Since Bray and Murray are a solid two to three years from being pro-ready (in a potential starting role), some will assert that the Chiefs would be fools if offering anything above a three-year contract to Smith. That's a nice observation, but that's not how contracts work. At least, not for second-tier quarterbacks.
Dorsey will try (and likely already has) to slide a front-loaded five-year offer sheet across the table. Smith's agent will demand more. The two sides will continue to finagle leverage into their corner. Yada, yada.
In all likelihood, the eventual deal will feature a breakdown that minimizes the amount of dead money within the final two to three years, so if Kansas City decides to part ways, it can at least gain cap room in doing so.
The bottom line is that, since the beginning of the 2011 season, Smith has looked the part of a perennial playoff-contending quarterback, and recent OTAs have done nothing to alter that perception.
If the Chiefs risk losing him, they risk taking two steps back and nosediving into the same "cross your fingers that X late-round passer develops" abyss that preceded his arrival.
3. Dwayne Bowe Is Reverting to Vintage Form
If you type a Twitter search for "Dwayne Bowe," you'll be greeted with a spectrum of colorful responses—none of which are gray.
It's a case of love or loathe, and the second he stamped his signature on a $56 million contract, the latter gained traction in Road Runner-like fashion.
It's likely that he will never sniff the numbers he produced in 2010 again. Part of that is due to the emergence of Jamaal Charles in the passing game. It's also partially due to the fact that Alex Smith doesn't zero in on one receiver the way that Matt Cassel did.
Remember, though, this is the same guy who torched Indianapolis for eight receptions, 150 yards and a touchdown in his last performance (despite suffering a foot sprain in the third quarter). This is also the only receiver who threatens the opposing secondary on a down-to-down basis.
The day Donnie Avery demands bracket coverage, feel free to inbox me.
Thus far in OTAs, Bowe has resembled the talent that warrants a bloated contract.
Again, I know you guys are saying “prove it” but Bowe is looking good out here. LOTS of contested catches.— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) May 29, 2014
Could he regress? Sure. However, if he doesn't, it's probably not by chance.
Per KCChiefs.com, he claimed, "I have a personal trainer that travels with me—and a nutritionist...The older you get, your numbers decline and you're not as fast, so I took it upon myself to hire people to help me." He went on to add that this summer marks the first time he's enlisted such a crew.
Regardless of whether he echoes last season's production or supplies Pro Bowl numbers, he'll still have no shortage of detractors.
But this much is true: If he's sidelined over an extended period of time, and Avery and A.J. Jenkins are slotted as the starters, those same naysayers, within a week's time, will be secretly counting down the seconds until his return.
2. Dee Ford's First Step Is Drawing High Praise
Word association for Dee Ford: pass-rusher, first-rounder, pianist...Derrick Thomas?
Tamba Hali on Dee Ford: "If anybody reminds you of Derrick Thomas' first step, it's him."— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) May 28, 2014
This year's No. 23 overall pick is only fueling the hype train, choosing the late great's college number (55) and claiming, per Rachel Santschi of KCChiefs.com:
The opportunity presented itself. I’d play at any number, but of course 55 came available. This is Derrick Thomas’ college number. It’s all good. I’m not trying to be Derrick Thomas, but he’s a guy that definitely inspired me. The opportunity presented itself, so I took it.
Now, before we sculpt his bust for Canton, let's remember that taking a snap is usually a prerequisite.
Having said that, when studying college film, his signature first step immediately jumps off the screen. And if you grew up a stone's throw away from Kansas City, Thomas' name cascades through your brain by default.
However, nobody wants to be "that guy" who links a first-month rookie to an all-time great. Conversely, Hali gets a pass because...well, if anyone disagrees, he can grind them into a fine powder.
1. Brandon Flowers and Justin Houston Are No-Shows
Pro Bowlers Brandon Flowers and Justin Houston have yet to join their teammates at OTAs, and neither case comes as much of a surprise.
Hopefully, one of the two will return before Tamba Hali leaves practice looking like a heartbroken Jackie Chan, shedding two respective tears and freestyling over Papa Diddy Pop's "Missing You."
Hopefully, both of them return so I don't have to spotlight another Hali is overweight rumor after Adam Schefter sees the All-Pro sulking in a tub of Chunky Monkey.
(For the record, dating back to his Penn State days, I've never seen a site list Hali's weight at less than 274 pounds, and questioning his work ethic is like saying, "Eh, if only that Nick Young wasn't so camera-shy...")
Justin Houston's (potential) extension is inevitable.
Houston would finish the year our top-ranked 3-4 outside linebacker, with the only thing keeping him from going higher in this list are the five games he missed at the end of the season. Before that (and when he returned for the playoffs) he was phenomenal, grading negatively just twice (and no worse than a -0.4) and being the kind of all-around playmaker that teams crave from a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Also, make no mistake, while Dee Ford is splitting reps opposite of Hali due to Houston's absence, his skill set—at this point in his career—is better suited for Hali's position.
Houston and his partner-in-crime mentor may both be outside linebackers, but the former normally lines up on the strong side of formations because he's more athletically inclined and agile in space. Hali predominantly serves the role of weak-side pass-rusher, which better accentuates Ford's strengths (though the rookie's frame is closer to that of No. 50).
If Houston were to miss time, Ford could fill the vacancy, but that won't factor into ongoing negotiations between the Chiefs and their pass-rushing predator.
Flowers' situation is a tad trickier. Actually, a lot trickier.
The Chiefs signed him to an extension in 2011 because, year in and year out, he performed like a top-five cornerback. And he was.
But when the team transitioned to a primarily press-man scheme, the switch nullified his most unique asset—instincts—and doubled down on his worst: size.
Furthermore, safety help was largely rendered a thing of the past, as the smart but sluggish-moving Kendrick Lewis—PFF's 52nd-ranked safety (of a qualifying 86)—or archvillain-of-angles Quintin Demps—rated No. 59—was tasked with monitoring everything between the sidelines.
More or less, when it came to covering physically imposing but speedy receivers, Flowers was often left on an island because Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper—who, among corners partaking in at least a quarter of their team's defensive snaps, ranked in the bottom 12 in terms of yards allowed per reception—were regularly torched on deep routes.
Flowers measures at 5'9", 187 pounds. His two worst outings sprang from shadowing Dez Bryant (6'2", 225 pounds) and Ladarius Green (6'6", 225-pound tight end).
Obviously, his dip in efficiency (alongside his hefty contract) sparked the round of predraft trade rumors, per Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei, which, to some extent, probably double as the catalyst for his nonattendance. Andy Reid muzzled any speculation that it was the team's doing, stating, per KCChiefs.com, "No, [Houston and Flowers] weren't told not to come."
Considering the duo's every move is now circumscribed by a media storm, it's easy to forget that OTAs are voluntary. Neither of the household names is required to break his silence until June 17—the first day of minicamp—which is precisely where the smart money lies.
Flowers already headlines a lucrative contract. For him, there's no practical reason to assume he'll be MIA once "mandatory" is slapped on his offseason schedule.
On the other hand, relative to holding out, Houston's case makes for a viable candidate.
#Chiefs star OLB Justin Houston skipped OTAs today. I’m told he wants a new contract. He has a year left on his rookie deal at $1.4M.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 27, 2014
John Dorsey will eventually craft a healthy compromise and extend the edge-rusher, but until that truth sees the light of day, Kansas City can, at the start of training camp, begin fining Houston $30,000 per day—1.88 percent of his currently scheduled cap hit.
Regardless, come Week 1, the Chiefs are still in the AFC West, and the AFC West is still an aerial expo. That being the case, Dorsey knows that forfeiting a team's best pass-rusher and corner is a recipe for empty seats in the stands and hot seats in the front office.
If you bank on either of those occurring, remember that, while Arrowhead isn't housing the reigning divisional champs, it does play host to the reigning executive of the year.
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