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A sense of normalcy awaits the Chiefs for training camp this year.
Unlike 2020, when the Chiefs adjusted to an abbreviated camp at their Kansas City training facility because of COVID-19 concerns, the team returns to St. Joseph this summer.
Rookies, quarterbacks and select other players report Friday, July 23, followed by the veterans on Monday, July 26 — and fans are welcomed back, too.
“We’ll go ahead and fine-tune everything once we get up to training camp,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said during June’s minicamp.
Training camp will serve as a key part of the team’s preseason evaluation process before the games count in the win-loss column. But the Chiefs shouldn’t need much adjustment — they’ve overhauled their offensive line, and they’re coming off a fifth consecutive AFC West divisional title and second straight Super Bowl appearance.
While the Chiefs lost to Tom Brady and Tampa Bay in Super Bowl LV, superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes returns at the helm of a high-powered offense and safety Tyrann Mathieu is back to lead the defense.
Given their relatively intact and solid foundation, there’s little doubt the Chiefs remain one of the NFL’s elite teams. More importantly, from an internal perspective, is that this year’s Chiefs believe they have some unfinished business to attend to thanks to that 31-9 Super Bowl thumping by the Buccaneers.
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“I think right now everybody is more motivated now than we were before we won a Super Bowl,” tight end Travis Kelce said during the mandatory minicamp. “I think everybody has still got a bad taste in our mouth on how we finished the season last year, and it’s just … that’s fueling the fire.”
The coming weeks, which will include “live” practices in pads and three preseason games, should sharpen the Chiefs’ focus on returning to the championship game.
Here are a few things to look for when the Chiefs report for training camp.
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Mahomes’ surgically repaired toe made it through OTAs and mandatory minicamp with flying colors, and he said recently that he doesn’t “see any problems moving forward.”
He’s even hit some golf courses lately. Barring a setback, the star quarterback should be a full-go participant in St. Joe.
The same can’t be projected for a trio of teammates, however.
Veteran guard Kyle Long, who suffered a knee injury during OTAs, might not be ready for the start of camp.
Cornerback Deandre Baker is coming off a gruesome leg injury suffered during the regular-season finale, and he wasn’t observed participating during OTAs. Rookie defensive end Malik Herring, who continues to recover from an ACL injury suffered at the Senior Bowl, also didn’t participate in on-field work during OTAs.
Depending on where they are in their respective recovery processes, Long, Baker and Herring could be candidates to start training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Of note: On the PUP list, players are prohibited from practicing until they are cleared by the Chiefs’ medical staff. In the event players are not activated from the PUP list before the season opener, they won’t be allowed to practice during the first six weeks of the regular season.
THREE BURNING ISSUES
1. THE RIGHT SIDE
With tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and guard Joe Thuney locking down the left side of the offensive line, and rookie Creed Humphrey expected to man the center spot, the primary competition lies on the right side of KC’s revamped offensive line.
Prepare for a spirited battle once the pads come on.
Rookie Trey Smith, the Chiefs’ sixth-round pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, and veteran Laurent Duvernay-Tardif project as the primary contenders at right guard with Long on the mend. Andrew Wylie, who held down the spot in 2020 with Duvernay-Tardif opting out, also returns and will be involved in the competition.
At right tackle, the Chiefs brought back veteran Mike Remmers, who can play multiple position on the front five, on a one-year deal. Remmers should have the edge over Lucas Niang, who opted out in 2020 after the joining the Chiefs as a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
“I think to expect that these guys will be able to come together and gel by early September, absolutely that would be my expectation,” offensive line coach Andy Heck said.
2. DEFENSIVE END DEPTH
The addition of defensive tackle Jarran Reed allows Chris Jones to move outside. The Chiefs appeared set on both sides of the line at the end of their June minicamp.
Then, Frank Clark happened.
Clark’s legal issues, which include a felony charge of possession of an assault weapon stemming from a March incident, and another weapons possession arrest in June — both in Southern California — pose a major question mark.
The NFL is monitoring Clark’s situation. But uncertainty remains about the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end’s availability — especially if the NFL determines he violated the league’s personal-conduct policy.
If Clark misses time, the Chiefs’ options for filling his shoes include Taco Charlton, Mike Danna, Demone Harris and rookie Joshua Kaindoh, a fourth-round pick this spring. A rotation would seem likely.
3. YOUNG LIONS
The Chiefs have used second-round picks in consecutive drafts on linebackers: Willie Gay Jr. in 2020, Nick Bolton in 2021.
Both of those guys generated excitement during OTAs, and veteran middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens is the perfect mentor.
Getting those young linebackers in pads will help the Chiefs’ coaching staff determine whether they’re ready for full-time starting jobs alongside Hitchens.
The Chiefs must settle on a starting linebacker group following the departure of Damien Wilson, who signed a free-agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars during the offseason.
THREE TO MONITOR
1. WR MECOLE HARDMAN
Hardman is entering his third season, which is traditionally viewed as a big year for young wide receivers.
Star wideout Tyreek Hill returns, too, but it’s reasonable for the Chiefs to expect a big jump from Hardman. It’s the 2019 second-round pick’s time to shine in the wake of veteran Sammy Watkins’ departure.
Through two seasons, Hardman has 67 catches for 1,098 yards and 10 touchdowns. Opportunity knocks. Can he become a bigger piece of the offense?
2. RB JERICK McKINNON
McKinnon’s signing during the NFL Draft flew under the radar, but he’s a fascinating addition to the Chiefs’ running backs group.
A knee injury wrecked his 2018 and 2019 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. But when healthy, the 5-foot-9, 208-pound McKinnon provides a unique skill-set as a change-of-pace rusher and receiver out of the backfield.
“He sure has a nice feel of the pass game,” Reid said during minicamp. “I look forward to giving him the whole package once we get up there (St. Joe), and let’s see what he can do once we get playing real football.”
3. CB MIKE HUGHES
The Chiefs acquired Hughes in May via a trade with the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for draft picks. The Chiefs added a former first-round pick to their cornerbacks group at low risk.
Hughes never realized his potential in Minnesota, and injuries certainly played a role in that. He gets a second chance in Kansas City behind projected starters Charvarius Ward and L’Jarius Sneed.