Eric Berry's arrival brought a jolt of energy to the Chiefs as they opened camp. But, as Robert Klemko writes, Kansas City's offense causes concern, and that begins with quarterback Alex Smith and the men tasked with protecting him.
What I saw: Morning practice (shells), the last day of camp in St. Joseph Mo., Missouri Western State University
Three things you need to know about the Chiefs:
1. There’s an aura with this team unlike any other, and it starts with Eric Berry. There are hardly words for the adrenaline shot that was the sight of No. 29 showing up at his locker this summer like he never left, after quietly spending the offseason in treatment for lymphoma. The sense of urgency silently conveyed by Berry, as singular a leader there is in the NFL, could be felt even during a non-padded practice on move-out day at MWSU.
2. The offensive line is a work in progress, and that’s bad news for Alex Smith, who is as reliant as any quarterback in the NFL on a formidable run game and the threat of play-action. The interior line is a jumble, with the team planning on starting rookie second-rounder Mitch Morse at center in place of the departed Rodney Hudson, last season’s lone bright spot on the offensive line. Often disappointing 2012 second-rounder Jeff Allen will likely start at right guard. Left guard Ben Grubbs started every game last year in New Orleans but was nowhere near the 2013 version of himself, which is why New Orleans was ready to deal the 31-year-old in exchange for a fifth-round pick. The interior line situation makes you wonder if Kansas City might have benefitted from pursuing Eagles castaway Evan Mathis, now a Bronco.
3. That said, running back Jamaal Charles has a habit of making lemonade out of lemons. He’s a complete back, but he also happens to be stronger off the tackles, where the Chiefs are adequate as run blockers. Plus, this might actually be the year Charles backup and 2013 third-round selection Knile Davis emerges as Kansas City’s future at the position. He’s taken the bulk of the workload in the preseason as the team works to keep Charles fresh after seven seasons and 6,856 yards.
What will determine success or failure for the Chiefs: Linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive end Mike DeVito are the core of this defense and both suffered season-ending Achilles injuries in Week 1 last season. They’re back and healthy enough to dominate meaningless preseason games. Without them a year ago, Kansas City lost twice to Denver and Peyton Manning by a combined 20 points. That gap closes this year.
Player I liked: Derrick Johnson. The former All Pro inside linebacker is back after tearing his Achilles in Week 1 last season and he’s playing with his hair on fire. Johnson played 28 snaps in the Week 3 of the preseason vs. Seattle and was a problem for the offense in every facet.
Five dot-dot-dot observations…. Ballhawking first-round pick Marcus Peters has made a strong case to replace cornerback Sean Smith for good when the latter returns from a three-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy… Dontari Poe is working his way back from a July surgery for a herniated disc in his back. His understudy, Jaye Howard, has looked strong in limited preseason action… Jeremy Maclin will end Alex Smith’s unthinkable streak of 16 games without a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. Their connection on deep routes has been a highlight of Chiefs camp… there won’t be a meaningful dress rehearsal for this offensive line, as it deals with injuries for Jeff Fisher and Eric Fisher… the team is excited about the development of Albert Wilson, an undrafted rookie a year ago who caught 12 passes in the last month of the season.
Player who I forgot was on the roster: De’Anthony Thomas. Just kidding! No way I could forget about the best Instagram follow in football, who CAPTIONS ALL OF HIS PHOTOS LIKE THIS. Thomas is making a bid to steal some slot receiver snaps from Jason Avant, but hasn’t seen much action of late while dealing with an ankle injury. Andy Reid tells me the biggest obstacle for these tiny receivers (Thomas is listed at 5-9, which is shenanigans), is learning how to identify and maneuver into passing lanes in order for the quarterback to locate them. GODSPEED, DAT.
Thing I’ll remember about Chiefs camp: Watching the Chiefs enveloped by members of armed services from six different countries, including America, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom. It was military appreciation day at St. Joseph’s, an Andy Reid favorite going back to his early camps in Philadelphia, and the players seemed to appreciate their presence. Tight end Travis Kelce was especially accommodating, staying long after many players left for the locker rooms to converse with dozens of soldiers on the practice field.
Gut feeling about this team: 7-9, out of the playoffs and slipping closer to the realization Alex Smith is below the Mendoza line for quarterbacks. To me, the Chiefs are in ‘quarterback purgatory,’ a term coined by Bills GM Doug Whaley to describe teams that aren’t bad enough to land a top five pick, but finding their quarterback situation untenable.