Despite injuries, Chiefs exuding confidence in training camp
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) One of the NFL's top linebackers may not make it back this season, his pass-rushing partner and a dynamic running back have also been on the shelf, and a Pro Bowl safety has yet to arrive for training camp after contract negotiations fell through.
Yet the Kansas City Chiefs are exuding optimism about the upcoming season.
Makes total sense, right?
''We're in a situation where we have high expectations for the team,'' Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said after taking in a recent practice. ''We're trying to build off what we accomplished last year.''
He's referring to the stunning 11-game win streak that carried the Chiefs not only right into the playoffs but to their first postseason victory in more than two decades.
''I've jokingly said that I expect us to get off to a better start,'' said Hunt, referring to a 1-5 run out of the gates, ''and I think that goes without saying. We do think we have a team that can compete for a championship and that's what the guys are about.''
It would help if Justin Houston could return from his February surgery to repair an ACL injury. And if Tamba Hali and Jamaal Charles can be productive. And if Eric Berry ever shows up.
Regardless, the Chiefs believe they were close to piecing everything together last season, and they return the majority of the roster intact. So when they signed Mitch Schwartz to solidify the offensive line, made a couple of wise draft picks and signed Nick Foles this past week to provide a capable backup to quarterback Alex Smith, most of their pressing needs had been addressed.
Hence the optimism that Kansas City can win its first AFC West title since 2010.
''Obviously a lot of that is based on the performance that we saw last year,'' Hunt said. ''The job that (general manager) John Dorsey and his staff have continued to do in terms of bringing in young players and some veteran players who can fill in and make us stronger, I think this is the most complete team we've had since Andy (Reid) and John have been here.''
Perhaps the most encouraging part of the first full week of training camp was the offense, which has often been the Chiefs' Achilles' heel. The defense has still been winning most of the workouts where starters go against each other, but there are signs that Smith and Co. can score this season.
Rookie wide receiver Tyreek Hill has made numerous dazzling catches, perhaps a sign that the speedy return man is more than just a special teams ace. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Travis Kelce give Kansas City two dependable pass catchers. Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have resumed with their one-two punch that proved so effective at running back when Charles went down last season.
Even a veteran like Smith seems to be having a good start to training camp.
''He's doing really well,'' co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. ''For him to be able to make some of the throws he made, he's been doing that for years now, and he's really playing fast.''
It's all lip service until the first preseason game, if not the first regular season game. But that dress rehearsal is quickly approaching - the Chiefs play the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday.
It remains to be seen whether Hali, Charles or Berry will be on the field by then. In the case of the first two, Reid said, ''We're literally taking it day by day and seeing how they're doing.''
''That's where we're at on those two,'' Reid said.
As for Berry, he cannot be fined for failing to report until he signs his franchise tag, and that can happen at any point before the regular season. But to think he will forego doing it is silly since he would be squandering the roughly $10.8 million he will make this season on the one-year deal.
''We were disappointed to not be able to reach a long-term contract with Eric. He's somebody we think very highly of,'' Hunt said. ''We certainly look forward to having him be a part of the team in 2016. And as soon as we have an opportunity next year, we'll sit down with his representatives and see if we can work out a scenario where he can finish his career here.''