A final analysis of Chiefs training camp as a season preparation exercise cannot be offered, not on defense.
A team that sweated through nearly a month of workouts, meetings and dorm living at Missouri Western did so without three of its most decorated players: Justin Houston, Eric Berry and Tamba Hali.
“There are pros and cons to that,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “You want those guys out here because they’re the best of the best.”
But on the positive side, the Chiefs got long looks at outside linebackers Dee Ford and Frank Zombo and safety Daniel Sorensen. And others moved into their places on the depth chart.
“If those star guys were here, we probably wouldn’t have seen as many opportunities as the young guys got,” Johnson said.
To defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, the Chiefs went through their St. Joseph portion of preseason with new starters at those positions.
“This is our team right here … we have to push ahead with that kind of mindset,” Sutton said.
But the Chiefs’ defensive strength will remain something of a mystery until Houston, Hali and Berry return.
Hali, who has a knee injury, and Berry, who couldn’t come to terms with the team on a long-term contract, are expected back by the season opener on Sept. 11, general manager John Dorsey said last week.
Houston’s status is more uncertain. It’s been more than six months since Houston underwent surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and the timetable for his return was six to 12 months.
Berry could miss the entire preseason. Because of NFL rules regarding franchise players, Berry, who the Chiefs tagged as a nonexclusive franchise player, cannot be fined for missing training camp because he’s not under contract. Berry will have to sign the franchise tender for $10.8 million and report but he could wait until right before the season and collect his salary.
Hali, who will turn 33 in November, is close to returning, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. Hali had surgery to clean up debris in his knee and did not practice in organized team activities or training camp.
“With Tamba, it isn’t as much the surgical part of it,” Reid said. “He’s getting up there in years and he knees are not in the greatest shape, nothing that surgery is going to correct.”
One of the Chiefs’ offensive standouts returned after a long absence this week. Running back Jamaal Charles hit the practice field on Tuesday for the first time since tearing his right ACL in the fifth game last season. His workload gradually increased over the next two days but Reid said he will not play in Saturday’s game against the Rams.
As for the missing star power, Reid recalled the Chiefs learned to live without some of the players last season.
Charles missed the final 11 games and Houston the final five. The Chiefs ended the regular-season on a 10-game winning streak.
Two years ago, the Chiefs played their final five games without Berry after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Chiefs won two and finished the season with a winning record.
“What happened over the last two years, we didn’t have Berry, we didn’t have No. 25 (Charles), we were missing these guys and the team kept going,” Reid said. “You want those guys in there. Heck yeah, you want them in there.
“But if they’re not in there our guys have the mindset. They just keep going. They’ve won games doing it.”