What to know for Chef Boot Camp
The Kansas City Chiefs’ training camp is here to mark the start of the 2022-23 season. Level up.
Nearly six months after their 2021 season came to an abrupt and stunning end — 173 days to be exact — the Chiefs reunite in St. Joseph to embark on another shot.
But with a very different group to the one that endured the sting of that AFC Championship Game defeat.
The constant is No. 15 at quarterback, but the presence of Patrick Mahomes has a way of masking how much the Chiefs have changed their roster this offseason. He has three new wide receivers, replacing the most productive he’s had in his four-year career.
And that pales in comparison to the number of changes in defence, a unit which will replace six of its 11 best players in terms of playing time.
It’s been a busy, if not eye-opening offseason – but one that, like all the others, leaves questions about what lies ahead.
Some more pressing than others.
1. Have the Chiefs done enough to improve pass rush?
At the start of free agency, the Chiefs circulated their plans to bolster a passing rush that ranked 29th in the NFL with just 31 sacks.
This raised anticipation for a makeover similar to what the offensive line faced a year earlier.
Instead, the Chiefs let go as much as they brought, losing Melvin Ingram and Jarran Reed. The bill? George Karlaftis, the second of two first-round picks. That’s, uh, a lot of weight on the shoulders of a player who has never played an NFL snap and was the fifth rusher on the board in May.
It certainly feels like the Chiefs didn’t want to stretch their budget to meet a need, which is a good long-term strategy. But in the short term, the pass rush remains just that – a need.
The Chiefs believe their rush percentage — which actually ranked third in the NFL last season, believe it or not — will be a truer indicator of repeatable success, and that they can convert more of those rushes into negative games.
We will see. Outside of Chris Jones, the Chiefs’ pass rush isn’t going to instill much fear in an offensive line, which means Jones will likely continue to see a slew of double-teams. The Chiefs need to find ways to win one-on-one, but do they have the guys to do it?
If you answer yes, either you’re betting on a rebound year from Frank Clark, in which case I applaud your optimism, or you’re really high on Karlaftis, who, again, has never played in the league.
Don’t be surprised if this is still a mid-season topic and we tie the Chiefs’ interest to any rusher that comes to market – as was the case with Ingram a year ago. .
2. How will the new wide receiver depth chart evolve?
This is the most obvious question to have to be on this list. The Chiefs lost their No. 1 wide receiver this offseason to the Miami trade of Tyreek Hill — the player who led all wides in yards each of Mahomes’ four years as a starter.
It’s a new world, and I’ve already noted that the absence of a No. 1 receiver is probably a good thing for the Chiefs. At least it forces them to become less predictable by becoming less dependent on a single point of contact.
But for this to work, the replacements must be reliable. Make no mistake: Hill is a massive loss to this group, and it’s unclear how the Chiefs will fill that void yet. JuJu Smith-Schuster offers a different skill set, a much-needed bigger body that can make catches in traffic on lower roads. Marquez Valdes-Scantling offers top speed. Skyy Moore is an intriguing rookie. Mecole Hardman could step forward in a contract year.
There are compelling elements that lend themselves more to a committee approach, but who gets to the top of that committee in the end? Who becomes a trusted option when third and you need completion to keep a reader alive? The basis for these answers will be built over the next few weeks in Saint-Joseph.
3. Can Clyde Edwards-Helaire keep his job?
Two years ago at this time, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was talking about training camp ahead of his rookie season. He seemed to fit so perfectly into an offense looking for an upgrade at running back, given not only his rushing talent, but also his passing experience at LSU.
It just didn’t turn out that way. Injuries didn’t help.
Edwards-Helaire has rushed for 79 yards just four times in two seasons. He has 1,320 yards and eight touchdowns for his career. He’s a contributor – don’t get me wrong – but he hasn’t been a player an opposition needs to plan their game.
The leaders obviously agree. They signed Ronald Jones this spring, and at the very least, Jones thinks he’s eating away at Edwards-Helaire’s playing time. Jerick McKinnon is also back and the Chiefs drafted Isiah Pacheco.
In other words, the job won’t be given to Edwards-Helaire in training camp. He’ll have to earn it, and that might take a step up from what we’ve seen in the last two years.
4. Who will get the snaps at cornerback?
Charvarius Ward has long been an underrated player in the Chiefs’ secondary — the San Francisco 49ers apparently thought so, too — and the plan to fill the vacancy created by his departure to Kansas City hinges on whether rookies are ready to join. from the jump.
The Jarius Sneed is now the only known commodity in the group – and I expect a step forward for him – but the Chiefs seem to insist on continuing to play him inside against three-receiver sets. I would prefer my best guy to play outside where the best receivers tend to reside.
If Sneed is the nickel corner, he’ll leave inexperience out of the numbers. First-round pick Trent McDuffie will almost certainly fill one of those two spots. After Rashad Fenton underwent shoulder surgery this summer, McDuffie may be joined by another rookie, possibly fourth-round pick Joshua Williams.
A big part of building a productive defensive backfield is preventing a weakness, because if you have one, good quarterbacks are sure to find it.
Whether the Chiefs have a weakness remains to be seen.
5. How will special teams affect roster decisions at the end of camp?
This is the piece that can never be ignored during the initial screenings of the 53-man roster. The Chiefs often keep a few players mostly for their ability to help special teams coordinator Dave Toub’s four phases.
He will need it.
The Chiefs have lost their top three special teams contributors from 2021 – Dorian O’Daniel, Marcus Kemp and Armani Watts. In fact, special teams could play catch-up more than any other unit in camp.
If you’re a fringe player as the side progresses, especially in positions like safety, cornerback, wide receiver, and linebacker — where Chiefs have been throwing numbers — it would be wise to adopt one or two special teams roles.
This story was originally published July 22, 2022 5:00 a.m.