Kansas City Chiefs: Early Rookie Progress Reports
The early progress report for the rookie class of the Kansas City Chiefs features a glowing review for headline act Dee Ford. The team's top pick in the 2014 NFL draft has wasted no time wowing coaches and teammates with his penchant for pressuring the pocket.
But the former Auburn rush end isn't the only first-year Chiefs prospect garnering some positive attention. There is also room for an unheralded O-lineman. He is working hard to show he can be a useful figure in the team's revamp at this crucial position.
Elsewhere, a free-agent cornerback is battling family ties to get himself noticed. Here are the latest progress reports for some notable rookies in Kansas City.
David Van Dyke Battling Cousin DeMarcus for Spot at Cornerback
David Van Dyke is one rookie making headlines. That's mostly because he is locked in competition with his cousin DeMarcus. The Chiefs plucked the latter off the veteran scrapheap this offseason, while the former was added after the draft.
Now the familial pair are locked in a battle for roster recognition, according to Randy Covitz of The Kansas City Star. Covitz notes that both face a tough task getting noticed in a very crowded position group:
Both are cornerbacks. It’s going to be difficult for one of them to crack a roster that includes 10 corners heading into training camp, much less both.
So while the cousins may be close companions, they’re also keen competitors.
The younger Van Dyke faces the tougher climb. He is transitioning from safety and can't match his elder cousin's speed. That quality is something the Chiefs covet for their aggressive coverage schemes, according to Covitz: "Van Dyke’s 6-foot-1, 187-pound size and his outstanding speed made him attractive to the Chiefs, who play a lot of man-press coverage."
The Kansas City pass defense was frequently burned by the deep ball during the second half of last season. A lack of true vertical speed on the outside of the secondary was a primary reason.
Ex-Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers player DeMarcus Van Dyke could help, although he has so far stumbled through a disappointing pro career. As for the younger Van Dyke, his greater level of versatility could be the key to winning a roster spot, especially if he can best his elder cousin during OTAs.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif Still Adjusting to NFL Speed
As an undersized but quick-footed offensive tackle, sixth-round pick Laurent Duvernay-Tardif fits the spread-style, zone-based blocking head coach Andy Reid often relies on.
As a rookie, Duvernay-Tardif is probably counted on to provide key depth at both tackle slots. Of course, for that to happen he needs to adjust to the speed and nuances of the pro game.
Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star has noted that the learning process has been somewhat bumpy for Duvernay-Tardif so far:
But through the first two days of the Chiefs’ three-day rookie minicamp this weekend, there were a handful of occasions where he saw just how wide the talent gap is. For instance, on the first day of camp, speedy outside linebacker Dee Ford, who happens to be the Chiefs’ first-round pick, lined up in a three-point stance, several yards outside of Duvernay-Tardif, who was playing right tackle, and proceeded to blow by him with a noticeable speed rush and accompanying swim move.
To his credit, Duvernay-Tardif is actively working to get use to combatting the speed of NFL-quality pass rushers like Ford.
In particular, Duvernay-Tardif said he’s working on improving his kick step, which is the first step a tackle takes in pass protection.
Ideally, Reid and O-line coach Andy Heck need Duvernay-Tardif up to speed sooner rather than later. He must be able to act as competent cover behind Donald Stephenson and Eric Fisher.
Aaron Murray Getting Work, but Enduring Some Struggles
Given the ongoing contract mini-saga with starter Alex Smith, the progress of rookie quarterback Aaron Murray will naturally garner a lot of attention.
Since the start of rookie minicamp, Murray has been getting plenty of work. But the former Georgia ace has not been free from struggles.
ESPN.com reporter Adam Teicher broke down Murray's showing during rookie minicamp:
Quarterback Aaron Murray, a fifth-round pick from Georgia, was a full participant. Murray wore a brace on his left knee but moved around well. He is only six months removed from surgery after tearing knee ligaments last fall. Murray's first pass was deflected and intercepted by linebacker Dee Ford, the first-round draft pick. Murray made some nice throws, none better than a fade pass that was caught down the left sideline by former Missouri receiver Jerrell Jackson. But Murray also threw a number of interceptions.
Nobody is suggesting Murray is expected to start as a rookie. However, there is a reason Reid and general manager John Dorsey opted to use a fifth-round pick to draft him.
Most of that reasoning involves Smith's current contract standoff. The ex-San Francisco 49ers starter reportedly wants a deal at least on a par, if not above, Chicago Bears passer Jay Cutler, per NFL.com writer Gregg Rosenthal.
But Smith shouldn't expect more than an annual payment of $15 million, according to Teicher:
Jay Cutler got a $126 million contract from the Chicago Bears recently, or an average of $18 million over seven years. But I don’t see the Chiefs going that high for Smith. I’d be very surprised and I don’t think they should go to that number. I would think the Chiefs won’t go much if any past $14 million or $15 million. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so it’s fortunate they have nine months in which to get a deal done.
For his part, Reid seems unmoved by the situation surrounding his starting passer. He remains confident both parties will continue working toward reaching an equitable compromise, per Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star.
But as long as Smith's status seems even a little uncertain, the Chiefs have to consider the future. With only Tyler Bray and Chase Daniel in reserve, that means Reid needs to see more from Murray.
De'Anthony Thomas Has Already Shown His Versatility
The Chiefs needed a versatile speedster to replace the departing Dexter McCluster. Apparently, that's just what they've got in fourth-round pick De'Anthony Thomas.
The former Oregon standout showcased his flexibility as a roving offensive weapon during the team's rookie minicamp. Thomas saw time at a few wide receiver spots, as well as running back.
The results were mixed, according to ESPN.com reporter Adam Teicher:
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.
Thomas has since returned to Oregon, where school remains in session, per another report from Teicher. Despite missing time, Thomas has already shown he can be a "Joker" type playmaker in the sub-packages schemed by Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson.
While he faces a steep learning curve at running back, Thomas has the speed and pass-catching skills to quickly earn some pages in the playbook dedicated to setting him free on the field.
Top Pick Dee Ford Is Earning a Key Role on Defense
Situational pass-rushers can be invaluable to a defense. It's a role too often overlooked by teams around the NFL, but those that have them know their importance.
Fortunately, Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was awarded one with his team's top pick in this year's draft. Dee Ford is already establishing a niche as a disruptive force with a knack for the big play.
The hybrid outside pass-rusher has even drawn comparisons to former Chiefs great, the late Derrick Thomas, according to current linebacker Tamba Hali, reported by ESPN scribe Adam Teicher.
That's high praise indeed. Few players ever rushed the passer with the awesome proficiency and lightning-fast first-step quickness Thomas possessed.
What's interesting about Hali's quote is the source himself. Many believe Ford was drafted as Hali's eventual replacement, given the latter's age at 30 and high contract value.
But Ford might actually be insurance for younger playmaker Justin Houston. A free agent next year, Houston has been a no-show at OTAs so far while he seeks a new deal, per Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star.
The early glimpses of Ford have let the Chiefs know they have sufficient cover for either of their star outside linebackers. For Sutton, Ford will become yet another weapon who can be utilized to create some devilish pressure fronts this season.
In an AFC West featuring quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, Sutton's ability to get Hali, Houston and Ford on the field together at the same time will prove crucial.