Red Zone

Chiefs’ top position battles heading into training camp

Jeff Allen could be in competition for spots at right tackle and right guard.
Jeff Allen could be in competition for spots at right tackle and right guard. deulitt@kcstar.com

The Chiefs currently have 89 players on their roster for training camp, which starts Tuesday when rookies and quarterbacks report to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.

Camp, however, really gets going with the first full-squad workout Aug. 1, and the roster will shrink to 53 before the season opener Sept. 13 against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.

Here’s a countdown of the the top five position battles heading into camp (You can read a complete, position-by-position breakdown of the roster here and five more story lines to monitor here).

NO. 1 CENTER

Third-year pro Eric Kush will head into camp as the favorite to win the job over second-round pick Mitch Morse, but this should be a fun battle to watch and monitor. Kush has two years under his belt in Andy Reid’s system, which is a significant advantage. He also boasts above-average athleticism and, in his limited appearances, has given good effort from play to play. He can seize the job outright by showing an improved ability to create movement at the point of attack and identify blitz concepts. Morse has a few things going for him as well, including his plus athleticism and makeup. Many a player with less physical gifts than Morse and similar smarts and toughness have carved out long NFL careers.

NO. 1 RIGHT GUARD

As it stands, the Chiefs have plenty of options at the position, the best of which figures to be fourth-year pro Jeff Allen. Allen has plenty of starting experience (28 career starts), and although he missed most of last year with an elbow injury, he possesses enough athleticism and smarts to form a solid guard tandem with Ben Grubbs. Don’t forget, Allen was part of a line in 2013 that tortured opponents with screen passes. Last year’s starter, Zach Fulton, and free agent-signee Paul Fanaika are decidedly less mobile, though they do offer power and project to be adequate depth, at worse. Also keep an eye on Morse, who could work his way into the mix at some point if he can’t beat out Kush.

NO. 1 RIGHT TACKLE

Allen will also be in the mix here, especially if another player emerges at right guard. A training camp battle between Allen and fellow fourth-year pro Donald Stephenson could be very fun to watch. Both players are entering contract years, which raises the stakes. Stephenson is a bigger player than Allen — he’s got about 2 inches and 7 pounds on the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Allen — and possesses plus athleticism for his size, but will need to prove he can put together a complete season after a 2014 campaign that saw him lose his starting job following a performance-enhancing drug suspension. Allen is a bit undersized for a tackle, but he played the position in college, and is very comfortable on the edge. The Chiefs could be in a good spot here, at least for this year, provided they truly let the two compete and bring out the best in each other.

NO. 2 WIDE RECEIVER

Here’s another training camp battle that will be fun to monitor. Third-round rookie Chris Conley turned a lot of heads this spring, as he consistently won one-on-one battles with his impressive combination of size (6-feet-3, 205 pounds) and speed (4.35 40-yard dash). He has the physical attributes of an NFL starter at the position, but learning Reid’s playbook is more than a notion, and that’s where second-year pro Albert Wilson has a decided advantage. Wilson only stands 5 feet 9, but he’s a stocky 200 pounds, and he showed some real flashes in his late-season audition last season. He’s still learning the nuances of the position, but he showed the ability to threaten corners vertically, and is a legitimate option to win the job. With Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce expected to be the top three receiving options, whoever wins the job will see lots of single coverage.

NO. 2 CORNERBACK

Sean Smith’s three-game suspension complicates matters some, since it opens the door for the two primary competitors for the starting job on the other side — rookie Marcus Peters and Phillip Gaines (five starts) — to start the season with the base defense. But the truth is, it would be a mistake to count out Jamell Fleming (four starts last year), Marcus Cooper (four starts) or even rookie Steven Nelson. Once Smith returns, the job opposite him with truly be open to competition. You can never have too much depth at cornerback in today’s NFL, and while the Chiefs may be young here, there are some intriguing options. With so much competition, there’s a pretty good chance the cream will eventually rise to the top during training camp, which is always a good thing.

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TerezPaylor.

  Comments