Last Friday I jumped in my trusty Nissan Sentra and set out for my second annual pilgrimage to Chiefs training camp in St. Joseph. This time I made a quick pit stop in Topeka to pick up my dad, who had never been to camp before (hey, pops!). After having a great experience last year, I was really looking forward to seeing how things would look under Romeo this year. There has been great coverage out of camp thus far, and most of it has mentioned how the camp this year has had an even faster tempo and energy than previous camps.
Unfortunately for those of us at camp on Friday, it was not a real energetic day. Romeo said as much in his press conference on Saturday. It didn’t help that about 20 percent of the practice was dedicated to punt team work. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t walk away with some observations and predictions based on what I saw. So let’s get to it.
I’ll start with the offense.
First of all, my initial impression of new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is very positive. He was the most energized person on the field. He came out ahead of most of the players and coaches and shook hands, signed autographs, and posed for pictures with fans. He then proceeded to warm up Jon Baldwin (more on him in a minute) one-on-one while they waited for the rest of the team to get out to the field. He threw Baldwin some passes and then did a drill with him where he’d stand behind him and throw a ball up over his head and Baldwin would have to react instantly when it dropped into view and try to snatch it out of the air.
The thing I really like about Daboll is that he seems to balance his “harsh criticism” with positive energy more than Todd Haley did. Yes, he will jump on a guy who does something wrong, but 30 seconds later he’s right back to teaching or hopping up and down like a little kid because somebody did something he liked. It’s hard to judge an offensive coordinator before we see how his offense produces, but after watching him in action for one practice, I’m encouraged.
Watching the quarterbacks on Friday was not real encouraging. Of all the position groups they had one of the least impressive days. Cassel was Cassel, meaning that he was clearly the leader and #1 QB, but didn’t really impress. Quinn wasn’t really any better. I will say one thing: At this point Quinn is 100 percent the #2 QB in camp. He always took the second team snaps ahead of Stanzi and when the QBs broke into two groups it was always Cassel with Quinn and Stanzi with Tanney. Despite the fact that Quinn hasn’t been great, he knows Daboll’s system and I didn’t see Stanzi do anything to deserve to pass him on Friday. Stanzi will have to clearly out-play Quinn in the preseason to claim the #2 QB job (in my opinion).
(Notice Daboll coaching WR Josh Bellamy as he runs his route)
The running backs were a different story. They all looked really good and I think the battle for the #3 RB spot could be one of the best to watch. I would have guessed that Cyrus Gray was a shoo-in for the job but I think Shaun Draughn may have something to say about that. Draughn looks a lot more powerful than Gray but still has a pretty explosive burst. I’d like to see Gray win the job, but if I didn’t know which back was which and you asked me who looked the best on Friday, I would have said Draughn.
The best part of the entire practice was at the very end when they did some red zone work and Jamaal Charles took the first snap of the drill put a sick cut on the first defender and then streaked outside to the end zone. It drew a round of “OHHHHH!!!” from the other players and sure looked like the old JC from before the injury to me.
The WRs were interesting to watch as well. As I mentioned earlier, Baldwin was one of the first players to hit the field and warmed up with Daboll before practice started. When the entire team started running together, Baldwin was the first player back by 15 yards. Now I didn’t see Baldwin make any highlight reel grabs like have been reported from other practices, but what I did see that has me just as excited is that Baldwin was clearly the hardest working WR on the field. Also, I remember that when I first saw Baldwin last year my thought was “Wow, he’s tall but kind of lanky. I hope he can take the physical nature of the NFL.” One year later things are very different. Baldwin is clearly bigger. I really noticed it in his legs. They almost looked like toothpicks last year, but not anymore. Just to be clear, I’m not saying he’s out of shape and put on weight. He clearly spent the offseason in the gym.
One other note on the WRs, Dexter McCluster appears to be 100 percent a slot WR. I’m not sure we’ll see him at RB at all this year. Not only did he spend the entire practice with the WRs, but Daboll gives the slot WRs some specific work of their own. During WR drills all the WRs would run some routes and then after they had all had a couple reps Daboll would have Dex, Devon Wylie, and Zeke Markshausen run a couple slot specific routes before they went on to the next drill. Dex clearly seems to be the top slot guy right now, as he was always ahead of Wylie both in drills and when they used a slot guy in 11 on 11 drills.
Besides the QBs, the other group that struggled on Friday at times was the offensive line. On about 50 percent of the 11 on 11 pass plays there was a pass rusher that could have sacked the QB. Justin Houston seemed to be able to get there anytime he wanted (more on him in a minute). It was really noticeable when a defender would run up to the QB and just stand there for two seconds until the QB got rid of the ball.
Now maybe since they weren’t tackling, the offensive line wasn’t going all out like they would in a game situation, or maybe the QBs have been instructed not to scramble as much in these drills and throw from the pocket, but the pass protection from the first team on down looked really suspect to me. I should also mention that the run blocking looked a lot better than the pass protection did. The other thing that I noticed was that Rodney Hudson seems to have added some bulk as well. There was some talk when he was drafted about him possibly being undersized for the NFL, but if you look at the picture below you can see how much bigger he is than Lilja.
One last offensive observation, I think the base package for the offense this year will be a two TE set with both Moeaki and Boss. It’s clear that Daboll wants to utilize the different looks he can get with these two. They lined up in 11 on 11 drills with 2 TEs a lot and at times would even put one in the backfield as an H-back (with the starters, it was Moeaki). Maybe this was because Bannon wasn’t practicing Friday, but I get the feeling that we may not see a lot of traditional fullback use outside of goal line and short yardage plays.
Now on to the defense.
Overall the defense looked pretty good on Friday. The question continues to be if the reason the defense looks good is because the offense hasn’t been very good or vice versa. I guess we’ll get a pretty good indication this Friday when KC plays its first preseason game. Brandon Flowers may not have practiced on Friday but he was walking around without any kind of noticeable limp.
Like most others who have attended camp this year, I paid special attention to Dontari Poe. He’s definitely as big and athletic as advertised. In the limited reps I saw him take I thought he looked mediocre going against double teams but almost unstoppable when matched up one on one. In one specific rep he went one on one with Lilja and drove him straight backwards about 10 yards. Unlike others who have reported from camp I still think Poe starts the season playing mostly in the sub package next to Bailey where he can use his freak athleticism to push the pocket. Then as the season goes by I think he’ll start to get more snaps at NT.
Speaking of NT, Anthony Toribio continues to be #1 on the depth chart. The KC Star even has a piece on him today. Before the offseason started I thought Amon Gordon would start at NT if Poe wasn’t ready since he played pretty well in limited reps last year, but I didn’t see Gordon take any reps with the first string defense. It was usually Toribio out there with Dorsey and Jackson in the base 3-4 with Poe getting a couple of snaps as well. If that doesn’t change as the preseason goes along it could mean that Jerrell Powe is going to have a real fight on his hands just to make the roster.
You have to think that Jackson, Dorsey, Poe and Bailey are locks for the final roster. Last year the Chiefs had six active defensive linemen on game day and two more that made the 53 but were inactive most games. If Toribio remains the starting NT that only leaves one active DL spot for games between guys like Powe, Gordon, Brandon Bair (who many are high on), Ropati Pitoitua (who is huge and was good enough to play regularly for the Jets), and 7th round draft pick Jerome Long. That’s another spot where KC fans will want to watch how things shake out during the preseason.
I was bummed that Siler didn’t practice, but he seemed to be moving around okay so hopefully he won’t miss any significant time. The LB who looked the best on Friday was Justin Houston. As I mentioned earlier, there were multiple times in 11 on 11 drills where he was instantly in the backfield and could have hit the QB if it was allowed. If he’s healthy all season I’d be shocked if he doesn’t get double digit sacks. The other interesting thing to watch may be if Andy Studebaker can keep his roster spot. I really like Studebaker. He’s smart, hardworking, has a great attitude, and is a solid special teams player. That having been said, I just don’t see the upside with him that you can see in Cameron Sheffield, Gabe Miller, and even the recently signed Edgar Jones. All of those other players have the speed and athleticism to be more of a threat in pass rush situations then Studebaker. If those other guys can show that they can play just as well on special teams then it could be the end of the road for Studebaker.
The final preseason battle that I’ll be keeping a close eye on is DeQuan Menzie and Jalil Brown. As others have reported, Menzie had a really good day on Friday with a couple of nice break ups. Jalil Brown also looked pretty good. Brown has the physical tools to be a Brandon Carr type corner. It’s just a matter of him developing the coverage skills. Overall, I feel really good about the secondary. Especially since Eric Berry appears to be back at 100 percent already. If we could go all season and the only DBs to see action on the field were Flowers, Routt, Arenas, Daniels, Brown, Menzie, Berry, Lewis, and Elam I think we’ll be all be very happy. It would certainly be an upgrade over the play of guys like Sabby Piscatelli, Donald Washington, and others who saw the field last year.
So overall I thought the defense looked ready to have a fantastic season.
The top three things/players I was disappointed in on Friday:
1. The QBs
2. The Pass Protection
3. Dwayne Bowe Not Being There
The top three things/players that impressed me on Friday:
1. Jon Baldwin
2. Justin Houston
3. Brian Daboll
When you look at my list of things that disappointed me on Friday, it’s a little worrisome that all three involve the passing game. Based on my one day at camp my prediction for the first preseason game is that the run game and defense look good and that the passing game struggles. That certainly wouldn’t be out of character for the Chiefs so I’m not exactly going out on a limb there.
If you’ve never been to training camp before I really recommend it. It’s a good time (even if the team has a down practice) and you get to see some of your favorite players up close and personal. Also, I highly recommend eating at Boudreaux’s while you’re in town. They have great Cajun food if that’s your thing (I recommend the Jambalaya and the Fried Alligator).
KC fans, we have a game this week! Isn’t life great?
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!