Of the position groups I was interested to watch, the one I had the best view of was the cornerbacks. At this point we know Charvarius Ward and L’Jarius Sneed are locked in as two of the starters. The questions then begin with who will be the third cornerback on the field and who earns the rest of the depth spots on the roster.
The Chiefs seem to be giving both Deandre Baker and Mike Hughes a chance to earn that third spot during training camp. That’s not to say that Rashad Fenton doesn’t also have a good shot to do so, but since K.C. knows Fenton better, they seem to be wanting to get a good look at both Baker and Hughes.
When Baker came out of college, I was banging the drum for the Chiefs to draft him in the late first round. In the long run, that wasn’t necessary as mediocre play and off the field issues made Baker available to the Chiefs without it costing them any draft picks last season. I was hopeful that the Chiefs would help him get back on track, and I came to camp on Saturday hoping to be encouraged by what I saw. Unfortunately, I can’t say that what I saw on Saturday has me excited.
Coming out of college, Baker was a sticky outside cover corner with only average speed. What I saw on Saturday was that the speed/movement concerns may be a bigger issue now than coming out of college. My hope is that maybe Baker is still recovering from him broken leg and will begin moving better as he continues to heal. However, on Saturday Baker just didn’t look very fluid. In fact, between plays or just running to the sideline his jog even looks a little labored. That having been said, he does still possess nice coverage skills when he can keep up with his man.
On the other end of the spectrum is Hughes, who looked completely healthy on Saturday. In fact, during one of the defensive back footwork drills, I thought he was one of the best looking in the entire group. He runs well and had quick feet. While he’s a little short for a corner, he’s one of the more athletically built corners on the team.
On Saturday the Chiefs were rotating both Baker and Hughes at the corner spot opposite Ward and moving Sneed into the slot. While Hughes may not have the length you look for on the outside he was able to keep pace with his man. It’s too early for him to prove my injury concerns wrong, but I was encouraged by what I saw Saturday.
So who would I like to see play more between the two? Well, I think that depends on the matchup. If the Chiefs needed a corner to put on someone like Tyreek Hill or Mecole Hardman, I would choose Hughes, hands down. I just don’t think Baker can keep pace with either the change of direction or long speed of those type of receivers. However, if they need someone to cover a larger outside target I might go with Baker. His longer arms and sticky coverage skills are an asset if he can keep pace with the man he’s covering. I’m anxious to watch both of these two more in the preseason. I’ll also repeat that Fenton may end up beating out both of them.
I also want to take a second to talk about undrafted rookie Dicaprio Bootle. I wasn’t planning to watch Bootle, but he caught my attention while the first string was doing coverage drills early in practice. Bootle was standing back behind the defensive alignment and on each rep he would mirror either Charvarius Ward or L’Jarius Sneed. If he was mirroring Ward and Ward back peddled for five yards and then broke inside, Bootle would do the same thing. If he was mirroring Sneed and he jammed the coach in front of him, Bootle would shoot his arms out like he was jamming someone, too. He was the only defensive back doing this.
I don’t know if the coaching staff told him to do this or if he just was doing it on his own, but I thought it was encouraging to see a young undrafted player trying to learn and get the most out of every minute of practice. So after seeing this I decided to watch him when the second team defense was on the field (if Baker and Hughes weren’t on the field). I was impressed with his movement skills and thought he did a nice job overall. If you’re looking for players to watch in the preseason when the starters are out, add Bootle to your list. I think he has a real chance to earn a practice squad spot or maybe even one of the last roster spots if he continues to do well.
So those were some of my top first impressions from a day at training camp. So what do you think Chiefs fans? Have any of you made it to camp this year? If so, is there anything that has stood out to you? Have you seen or even read anything about camp that conflicts with any of my takeaways? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.