Finally … The Rock … has come back, to his mailbag!
(Yeah, I grew up in the Attitude Era. And yeah, you’re gonna have to deal with some bad wrestling pop culture references if you want to read this. It is what it is.)
After a two-year hiatus, I decided to jump into these mailbag streets again. The Chiefs are coming off an 11-5 season, the Super Bowl is the destination in 2016, and lots of you guys have questions that I’m uniquely positioned to answer, considering I’ve watched all six of their offseason practices thus far.
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So, because I don’t take my role as the self-appointed People’s Champ lightly, I figured it was time to give you all a status report, of sorts. So let’s jump right into it.
Easy. 1. Alex Smith. 2. Alex Smith. 3. Alex Smith. 4. Jeremy Maclin. 5. Alex Smith.
I’m not even joking. Look, I know everybody is excited to see what the kids — Tyler Bray, Aaron Murray and Kevin Hogan — can do, but for a team with championship aspirations, an injury to Alex Smith would be devastating. None of these other guys have taken a snap in an NFL regular-season game, and while they all have talent, you probably don’t want them learning on the job during a season in which you think you’re a contender. Inexperienced quarterbacks who aren’t named Tom Brady rarely win in the NFL.
Listen, I’ve watched all three of them in six practices thus far. And I’m no coach, so you can take these observations, and the rest that will appear throughout this post, for whatever they’re worth. But I’m pretty confident that after two weeks of practices, all three of them would tell you they need to be more consistent on a day-in, day-out basis.
A quick synopsis of each: Bray throws a pretty deep ball, but he needs to be more accurate and master the mental side of the game. There are too many times where he seems to hesitate to throw or make the proper read. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what my eyes tell me. Murray, meanwhile, seems to handle the mental part of the game a little better, but he’s been a little inconsistent with his accuracy, too, and he doesn’t have Bray’s arm talent. Hogan, meanwhile, has impressed me — he throws with great anticipation and has made a few big-boy throws that made me go “whoa” — but he’s still a rookie, and the game will be fast for him if he’s forced into action.
I’d say it’s pretty tenuous, for two reasons: all three of the players vying for the job need to be more much consistent, and nothing is going to be settled until some live bullets start flying in August.
If the Chiefs were interested in moving up for Paxton Lynch — and I actually think they were — the organization already answered that question. But I’d caution against counting any of these guys out. Let’s see what happens in the preseason; I’m looking forward to getting some tape on these guys so I can see what’s really going on with them. Things look different on tape than they do live, sometimes.
Eric Murray had an interception on Thursday — it was a nice play in which he broke in front of a receiver — but that came at safety, which appears to be his new position. KeiVarae Russell and D.J. White haven’t made any splash plays (as far as I can tell), but they appear to be in front of Murray on the cornerback depth chart, and they each have their strengths. Russell is a superior athlete, while White has a nice feel for the position. I’ll be able to tell you more when the pads come on in July.
Ron Parker is absolutely a starter — he’s really underrated as a fast, reliable nickel/safety swingman — which leaves Sean Smith’s vacant cornerback position as the only one really up for grabs. At this point, my money would absolutely be on Phillip Gaines, who is returning from a torn ACL, and Steven Nelson, has been killing it so much in OTAs that I’m pretty T.J. Lavin would give him a “You killed it” shoutout on Twitter if he was privy, at all, to what the Chiefs were doing.
So to answer your question, I’d actually go with Nelson, since Gaines hasn’t practiced. He looks quicker and way more confident; he’s always around the ball and he’s been knocking passes away regularly. He even punctuated one of his pass breakups Wednesday with an extended “Michael Jordan in 1997” fist pump. In short, he looks like the player at Oregon State that prompted me to put him on my 2015 All-Juice Team.
The key for him will be keeping it going in training camp, where OTA stars tend to fade once the contact starts. Nelson still has much to prove, and if he doesn’t keep it up, one of the talented youngsters behind him will leapfrog him and that will be that.
He is, but the Chiefs play less press coverage than you think, as they played lots of off man and press-bail coverage last season. Their corners need to be able to read-and-react, click and close and make plays on the ball. Those are the traits they value the most, based on what I’ve learned.
Conley is a great athlete and a smart dude. He’s still learning how to consistently make the tough catch. If he ever gets that, he’ll win the job. Through six practices, I don’t think anyone has stood out enough to be declared the front runner for the No. 2 receiver job, though. This one is going to continue throughout August.
The Chiefs like LDT because he’s a strong, physically-gifted tough guy who is smart and generally tries really hard. His problem is he’s raw; he’s still learning blocking angles, how to play with proper technique and how to keep his head on a swivel. All those issues get him in trouble sometimes, but he’s got a high ceiling. Reid looked great at guard against New England, but he’s been getting most of his work as a swing tackle with the second unit. That’s an important role, given Eric Fisher’s injury history (though Fish looks pretty put together physically these days). As for Ehinger, I can’t tell you anything about linemen until they put the pads on in July.
My guess is your starting guards are LDT and Ehinger. I still think Fulton’s best position is center, and Jah Reid would probably be better than any of them there, but we’ll see.
That would be Spencer Williams, a football operations assistant, and he’s really put together a killer playlist throughout OTAs. Lots of rap, very little WWE stuff. Among a few personal favorites that have played during practice over the past few weeks: “Swag Surfin’” by F.L.Y., “Ima Boss” by Meek Mill, and “Down In the DM” by Yo Gotti. Insert fire emoji.
I’ve reported everything I know. My hunch is he’ll back this season, probably sooner than anyone expects. That dude’s work ethic is crazy. But we’ll see.
Yeah. I’d have to agree with my friend, Nick “The Boss” Jacobs on that. Because as a football player, Tyreek Hill is really fast. Like, fastest dude on the field fast. He’s absolutely an “if we’re even, I’m leavin’ ” guy. He’s been the most impressive newcomer on offense by far, and one of the most impressive offensive weapons, period. He’s got soft hands, he’s got ball skills and he can track it in the air, too. His teammates and coaches have seemed to accept all this — just read the lead to my story about Al Harris to see what I mean.
Hill will be really interesting to watch when the pads come on in July, because if he keeps his juice after taking his first big hit — lots of guys lose their shake and confidence after that because it’s a lot harder to be a boss when the threat of tackling is there — the Chiefs might really have something in him.
Now, I know some people won’t care about any of that because of his past. And I understand that, and I’m not telling you you shouldn’t feel that. Not to go all Mike Singletary on you, but this is what I believe: As fans, you’re free to feel however you want about this team. If you don’t want to support them because of his past, that’s your choice. Do what you feel, whatever it may be.
Put it this way: if Hill proves to be a reliable returner in terms of fielding the ball, there is absolutely a scenario in which Knile Davis and De’Anthony Thomas don’t make the team. Davis wants to be a No. 1 back and was placed on the trading block this offseason — teams might be waiting for him to be released — while Thomas’ disappearance for personal reasons down last year’s stretch run puts him in the position of proving he can be relied upon again. It will be interesting to see how it plays out for both men.