The Chiefs wrapped up their final practice of minicamp Thursday, but the injury situations of several key players — including Justin Houston and Jamaal Charles — remain in wait-in-see mode.
Charles, who is recovering from an ACL tear last October, warmed up with his teammates and participated in individual drills Tuesday and Wednesday — the first two days of the Chiefs’ three-day mandatory minicamp — but rested his knee as his teammates went through a light workout Thursday.
“We gave him the two days (of work), and we backed him off,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He had two good days here, and now we’ll see how he does at camp. I think we’re optimistic about it. Let’s not rush him. We’ll get him back to where he feels good.”
There is no need to rush Charles back onto the field, given the wealth of options the Chiefs have at their disposal in his speed. His replacements a year ago, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, helped fuel a 10-game winning streak and returned to camp more confident and a bit richer, too, as both received identical two-year extensions in March.
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“Those guys are doing a heck of a job,” running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said. “Like I said, they’re a hardworking group. They do a great job. One thing — and I want this to get out there — Jamaal Charles, even though he’s not out here, he does a great job with those guys in the meeting room. They do a great job talking about all the little things that need to be done on a day-to-day basis.”
The Chiefs also haven’t been shy about getting Knile Davis, a third-round pick in 2013, some reps with the first team throughout organized-team activities, so the depth there is just fine.
But the same cannot necessarily be said at other positions, such as outside linebacker, where the Chiefs’ Pro Bowl starters — Houston and Tamba Hali — each missed the entirety of offseason workouts as they deal with their knee issues. Houston is recovering from ACL surgery performed in February, and Hali — who has dealt with swelling in his knees the last two years — also had a procedure done after the season.
Although Hali is expected to be ready for camp — he has just been getting days off to rest — the status of Houston is unclear. Following the initial announcement of his injury, the Chiefs gave him a six- to 12-month recovery timeline, which could put him in danger of missing the entire 2016 season. But shortly before the draft, Chiefs general manager John Dorsey predicted Houston would play this season, a statement Reid was quizzed about Thursday.
“That’s the feeling the kid gives you when you’re around him,” Reid said. “I don’t think any of us probably know, but it makes you feel that way — it makes you feel like he’s going to be out there playing. I think that’s what Dorse was saying, and we’ll see how it works out.
“There’s no timetable. When he’s right, he’s right, and we’ll get rolling.”
Reid wasn’t sure how much Houston would be able to participate when training camp begins in late July but added that he is satisfied with his recovery progress.
“Listen, he’s where he needs to be right now,” Reid said. “He’s a hard worker, so he’s bound and determined to get back. When you’re around him, you feel optimistic he’s going to be back in a short period of time.
“But I think we’re all just going to take a little bit, and that’s OK. One of the other guys will step in and step up for him at that spot until he gets back. The important thing is he gets back and he gets healthy, and you don’t rush it and do something foolish.”
With Houston and Hali out for the entirety of OTAs — although Hali was present at most of the practices in an instructive role — third-year pro Dee Ford and veteran Frank Zombo earned most of the starting reps.
Zombo is a steady player who is known more for his special-teams work, so it is Ford — a first-round pick in 2014 — who must tap further into his athletic gifts if the Chiefs expect to survive a prolonged period without Houston.
Ford, who is looking to improve on a four-sack sophomore season, left practice early on Wednesday with tendinitis in his knee and did the same Thursday, though the training staff told Ford to simply do whatever he could Thursday.
“Yeah, he’ll be fine,” Reid said. “I think when he gets back to camp, it won’t be a big deal.”