Football season is finally here. Kind of.
The Chiefs will open training camp this upcoming week when rookies and quarterbacks report on Tuesday and the veterans report Friday. As the players arrive at Missouri Western in St. Joseph, they’ll begin to answer the major questions that face this team during the final stretch of the offseason.
Here’s a couple of the most pressing.
Will Juan Thornhill and other injured players be at 100 percent?
A calf injury kept rookie safety Juan Thornhill out of mandatory minicamp, but he’s expected to be a full go for training camp — at least that was the expectation in May. Before his injury, Thornhill was taking reps alongside safety Tyrann Mathieu with the first-team defense. Thornhill, a second-rounder was making major strides through rookie minicamp and OTAs, but he’ll need as many reps as possible in training camp to continue on that trajectory. If everything continues on his pre-injury path, Thornhill will likely be one of the only first-year players to earn a Week 1 starting job.
Thornhill wasn’t the only significant player to miss time during the offseason workouts. Tight end Travis Kelce sat out as he rehabbed an ankle injury, and both Deon Yelder and Blake Bell missed practices with injury. Kelce told The Star he would be a full go by training camp, a major boost to a depleted tight end group. Yelder enters camp as the front runner for the TE2 spot, but the spot is far from solidified. He missed all of minicamp, and training camp will be his first true opportunity to earn a roster spot over players like Bell and former Ravens tight end Nick Keizer. Other players who missed time during the offseason program include offensive linemen Cam Erving and Jimmy Murray.
When will Chris Jones make his camp debut?
Jones had a breakout season a year ago with 15.5 sacks and a pick-six. Now, he wants — and deserves — to get paid. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Jones can be given a monster deal now. The two sides have engaged in talks throughout the offseason, but those conversations stalled in late May, and Jones didn’t attend OTAs or minicamp. Jones is under contract for another season, so he’ll have to report to his team at some point. But when? He has to report by Aug. 6 to receive an accrued season toward free agency.
Negotiations so far haven’t been fruitful with both sides still far apart on the numbers. If Jones doesn’t get a new deal and puts together another strong season in 2019, he’ll likely be franchise tagged by the organization next year, creating another dramatic offseason situation between the two sides. Though Jones spent his offseason working out in Florida, it would benefit him to report to camp as soon as possible to start adjusting to Steve Spagnuolo’s new defense and the rest of the new coaching staff.
Will Tyreek Hill pick up where he left off?
Hill was barred from team activities during the NFL’s investigation into a child abuse probe involving Hill and his ex-fiancee. The league ultimately determined Hill didn’t violate the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and he won’t face a suspension or fine. Because of the investigation, he missed OTAs and mandatory minicamp. But that doesn’t mean he was idle during the summer. Social media videos show the wide receiver has been working out on his own as well as with fellow Chief Gehrig Dieter throughout the last couple months. Because of that, Hill isn’t likely to deal with a major readjustment period when he reports to training camp as the Chiefs’ top receiver on July 26.
A season ago, Hill put up 1,479 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. It will also be interesting to watch the relationship develop between Hill and new draft pick Mecole Hardman. The Georgia product has similar speed and skills to Hill, although he’s still pretty raw. Having Hill at camp should push Hardman and help him develop faster.
How will Patrick Mahomes’ upgraded physique help him in training camp?
The Chiefs’ quarterback is looking a bit more like a linebacker after a summer of healthy eating and intense workout programs. Mahomes recently said in an interview with Yahoo that his goal was to get down to single digits in body fat percentage. From the looks of it, he’s well on his way to that. We’ll get the first look at how his upgraded physique impacts his playing ability in St. Joseph. Last year, the buzz around Mahomes’ training camp interceptions was often louder than the chatter about his arm strength. That narrative isn’t likely to repeat this year, but it will be fun to see what he’s able to do in his second training camp as the Chiefs’ starter.
How will the new defensive coaches mesh with their units?
The defensive coaching staff has had some time to start getting adjusted to their new team through OTAs and mandatory minicamp, but now they’ll have their undivided attention for more than a month in the training camp practices. Spagnuolo assembled an all-star group of coaches including defensive line coach Brendan Daly and linebackers coach Matt House — both known for their energy and passion. How will that translate into the training camp practices? Spagnuolo and some of his coaches took time for one-on-one instruction during minicamp. Look for them to continue that in St. Joseph. Bob Sutton’s scheme and teaching method often weren’t effective, but Spagnuolo’s methods seem to be more player-friendly.
How will Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu lead the defense?
Eric Berry, Dee Ford and Justin Houston are gone. And with the leadership core from the Chiefs of years past departed, it’s now Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu’s defense. Both showed leadership during offseason workouts, but they’ll really have an opportunity to take over in St. Joseph. This could translate in any number of ways — leading team huddles, being loud, pulling aside younger players for instruction — and we’ll get a first look at it during training camp. This defense is practically guaranteed to be better than last season’s unit, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
The team can lay the foundation for the season in training camp, and strong leadership from both Clark and Mathieu will go a long way to mitigating some of the growing pains that will inevitably come when the regular season opens in September.