The signature moment for a Chiefs wide receiver during offseason practice happened this week when coach Andy Reid chewed out Jon Baldwin for being lackadaisical in getting to the line of scrimmage before a play.
It’s early, but that can’t be a positive sign for the Chiefs as they work to develop one or more receivers capable of helping Dwayne Bowe boost their passing game. Baldwin is the other starter with Bowe and leads the list of candidates, but hasn’t yet emerged as the dominant offseason player he was last season before faltering when the games started.
The Chiefs signed Donnie Avery, who caught 60 passes for the Colts last season, but he has mostly been a backup. Avery turned an ankle in practice on Tuesday and his participation has been limited since.
Other candidates are Dexter McCluster, who caught a career-high 52 passes last season, veteran Terrance Copper and a group of developmental players trying to establish themselves in the NFL, including Devon Wylie, a fourth-round draft pick last year.
But McCluster has provided the Chiefs few big plays since his arrival in 2010, Copper is a journeyman valued mainly for his special-teams ability and Wylie showed little in the playing time he received late last season.
Reid suggested the Chiefs might mix and match receivers to try to maximize their abilities.
“I don’t mind playing a bunch of wide receivers,” Reid said. “That’s what you do to keep them fresh.
“We’ve got a variety. We’ve got some speed guys. We’ve got some smaller, quick guys. We’ve got big, strong guys and kind of those intermediate guys and that’s OK. We’ll work to all their strengths and allow them to make plays.’’
Baldwin, the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick in 2011, was a major disappointment last season. He repeatedly made impressive catches during offseason work, leading to hopes he would have a breakthrough season.
He didn’t. Baldwin caught just 20 passes, one for a touchdown.
Baldwin was drafted by the Chiefs when their general manager was Scott Pioli and coach was Todd Haley. Both are gone, so this season may be Baldwin’s last chance to establish himself with the Chiefs.
“That’s always for everybody,’’ he said. “It doesn’t matter, the coaching staff. You know you’ve got to go and prove it every year. You can’t take any steps backward and think you’ve made it. You’ve just got to continue to work.
“You’ve just got to make steps forward. Coach Reid and (receivers coach David) Culley, those guys are going to work us all hard, going to coach me up pretty hard and I’m looking forward to getting out there and getting the opportunity this year.’’
Perhaps mindful of how Baldwin’s 2012 season turned out, nobody has predicted he will have a breakout year this time. But the Chiefs don’t appear ready to give up on the possibility, either.
“He’s more consistent in his route running,’’ Bowe said. “He’s going to be better because we’ve got a better coach and we’ve got a great quarterback and he’s got a guy like me that’s going to bring him along.’’
The Chiefs signed Avery to be the deep threat they otherwise lacked. The 60 receptions he has last season were a career high.
“I can go over the top and get some yards after the catch,’’ Avery said. “But whatever the coaches dial up, I’ll be happy to do. If it’s going deep, I’ll go deep. If it’s running a slant, I’ll run a slant. Andy Reid runs the show and his mindset is to attack, attack, attack. That’s what we’re doing.
“This is a good group of receivers. Everybody has their attributes. We’ve just got to use them all. Every game somebody is going to be upset because they didn’t get enough touches.’’
The Chiefs for now can only hope that’s the case. New Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is familiar with the arrangement of receivers where the top player, in this case Bowe, stands out among the group.
Smith, acquired in March in a trade with San Francisco, last year threw to Michael Crabtree, who caught 85 passes and scored nine touchdowns. The 49ers’ second-leading receiver was Mario Manningham, who has 42 catches and one touchdown.
“We’ve got a big group, a lot of talent, a lot of guys with a lot of strengths is really what jumps out at you at first,’’ Smith said. “For right now, we’re all just trying to pick up the offense, get on the same page, work on timing.’’