The Sports Xchange
NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - INSIDE SLANT
The state of the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive line was a subject of much concern as coach Andy Reid's team entered training camp. With three new starters, including the always important left tackle spot, and a very young group trying to fill the holes, the preseason schedule was going to be very important for the long-term health of running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Alex Smith.
An opening game 41-39 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday gave Reid and his coaching staff a mixed bag to evaluate as the team returned to its training camp site at Missouri Western State University.
The No. 1 group saw action in the first quarter for just 10 plays that produced only 28 yards with one first down courtesy of a Bengals penalty. Smith was sacked and lost the ball on a fumble when he was hit by defensive end Robert Geathers. Left tackle Eric Fisher had the blocking assignment for Geathers.
But Reid was quick to provide some cover for last year's NFL No. 1 overall draft choice.
"We should have dropped deeper on that play," Reid said. "It was a three-step drop play and you can't hold it forever. You have to secure the ball as a quarterback; you have to hang onto it and go somewhere else ... I really don't blame Eric on that particularly play."
In fact, Reid liked how aggressively Fisher played in his first game after offseason surgery on his shoulder and a sports hernia. It has limited the practice time for Fisher, especially in pass protection drills.
"He played physical; on the first play he took that defensive end and knocked him right on his back," Reid said. "He kept that aggressive play all the way through. Was it all clean? No, we need to work some stuff."
At right guard, sixth-round draft choice Zach Fulton got the start and solidified his hold on the starting job there. "He did a nice job maintaining his blocks," said Reid. "He was able to sustain his blocks on the second level against linebackers. There are a couple of things that he's going to have to work on but for the most part he played a good, physical game."
Center Rodney Hudson, left guard Jeff Allen and right tackle Donald Stephenson round out the current starting group of blockers with Fisher and Fulton. That's a rookie, a second-year player, a pair of third-year blockers and a center in his fourth season. It's one of the youngest lines in the NFL, with an average age of 23.8 years.
Smith said his protection was good and that the offensive line took another step forward toward gaining that cohesion so necessary for offensive efficiency and production.
"I'm not out there thinking about the offensive line," Smith said. "Certainly we have some new faces; we're young. You have to trust those guys that they're going to do their job. It's always going to be a little bit by committee there. That's the nature of the game over 16 weeks. You've got to have more than five guys that can play."
The Chiefs' No. 2 offensive line against Cincinnati was an older group with Ryan Harris (29) and Ryan McKee (27) at the tackles, Ricky Henry (27) and Rishaw Johnson (25) at the guards and Eric Kush (24) as the center. Jeff Linkenbach (27) got some work with that group at tackle.
With a long wait until their second preseason game on Aug. 17 against the Carolina Panthers, Reid hopes for more growth from his blockers.
"We are going to take this time and keep going, trying to get better as a team," said Reid. "There's a lot of room to continue to improve. We look forward to getting better."
NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - NOTES, QUOTES
--Rookie running back De'Anthony Thomas made quite a splash in his first chance to play in an NFL game. The fourth-round choice out of the University of Oregon provided the biggest play of the first preseason game, returning a punt 80 yards for a first-quarter touchdown against Cincinnati. He scored even though the moment he caught the ball he was hit by Bengals cover man Dre Kirkpatrick.
"I don't really remember that," said Thomas of Kirkpatrick running into him. "I was concentrating on making sure I secured the ball and then I just started running."
Run he did with his sub-4.4 second speed in the 40-yard dash, as Thomas was not touched after Kirkpatrick seemingly had him seconds after the catch.
"It was a pretty amazing play right at the catch," said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. "Then, he's pretty fast. If he gets out there, there are not going to be a whole lot of guys that can catch him. He can scoot pretty good."
--Sean Smith says he has not been told why he lost a starting spot at right cornerback, a status he has held since he came into the NFL with Miami and then last season with the Chiefs. Smith was very careful in selecting his words about the situation.
"Depth charts and spots like that don't really mean that much at this point," Smith said after the Chiefs' 41-39 victory over Cincinnati. "When you are out there, you are out there. I have time to think about nothing else but executing the play. Whenever I have the opportunity to make a play on the ball, I just come up with it."
Against the Bengals, Smith returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown late in the first half, after he came into the game with the No. 2 defense. "I had tight coverage and (the receiver) slipped a little bit and the ball was placed in a position where it was 50/50 for both of us," Smith said. "I guess I wanted it more. It was a good play."
Ron Parker and Marcus Cooper have been running with the first-team defense since the end of the offseason program. A prideful veteran, the demotion stung Smith, but he's trying to work his way back to the front of the line. Does Smith view his touchdown return as a ticket back to the No. 1 unit?
"No, I just go out there whenever I'm needed and try and execute and have fun with the guys out there," he said. "I don't even think about that. Whenever my name is called, I just have to go out there and execute. I go out there and play hard and let the rest take care of itself."
--In the spring of 2013 at his Pro Day workout at the University of Cincinnati, Travis Kelce was timed at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Since being selected by the Chiefs in the third round of that year's draft, Kelce had not shown that type of speed. Last year he didn't show anything as a knee injury and microfracture surgery kept him off the field.
But in the first game of the 2014 preseason, Kelce showed off his wheels on a 69-yard catch and run for a touchdown against the Bengals. "I've never seen him run that fast," said quarterback Chase Daniel, the man who threw Kelce the pass. "But he's healthy now and I think he's really gaining confidence that he's beyond his injury. Boy did he show that on the play."
Kelce lined up in the right slot with cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks playing press coverage. He was able to get away from Westbrooks and Kelce took off running down the middle of the field. Daniel admitted his eyes grew very big when he saw how open his tight end was.
"I had my eye on another receiver that had cleared out the safety in the middle of the field and there was nobody there," Daniel said.
The tight end blasted through the secondary and out ran everyone to the end zone.
"It was a good feeling," Kelce said. "I knew the coverage and I knew that if the safety went in coverage on 8-ball (wide receiver Albert Wilson), I would have a chance. I haven't felt like that since college."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Middle linebacker -- The spot playing next to Pro Bowl inside linebacker Derrick Johnson has been a revolving door for several seasons now. Last year, after he was released by Philadelphia, Akeem Jordan was signed to handle the spot. This year it's seven-year veteran Joe Mays.
But in training camp practices, Mays is getting competition from James-Michael Johnson. The third-year pro joined the Chiefs off the waiver wire from Cleveland before the 2013 regular-season opener and was largely a special teams performer. He has elevated his level of performance and has caught the coaching staff's eye due to his ability in pass coverage. Mays and J-M Johnson may end up sharing the linebacker spot next to Derrick Johnson.
--Veteran safety Steve Gregory announced his retirement on Saturday after eight seasons in the NFL. Gregory signed with the Chiefs on July 31 and played in the team's first preseason game, making three tackles in 29 plays on defense in the fourth quarter.
"After entering the game as an undrafted free agent (San Diego in 2006), I was fortunate enough to play twice as long as the average player," Gregory said through a statement distributed by his agent. "This past offseason, my wife Rosanne and I were blessed to welcome a daughter, Aviana, and spending time with her has changed my life's perspective. It is my hope to continue in football as a coach and I look forward to what the future holds. I'm tremendously happy with my decision and being able to walk away from this great game both healthy and on my own terms."
NFL Team Report - Kansas City Chiefs - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR Dwayne Bowe has had a particularly difficult training camp and his struggles have not gone unnoticed around Missouri Western State University. On Thursday, coach Andy Reid revealed that Bowe has been dealing with a serious finger injury, which might explain why Bowe is having trouble catching passes. "His finger is shot," Reid said Thursday. "You can practice with that type of thing. I give credit to some of these guys that have pushed through some of the injuries." Bowe has not missed any practice time. He made one reception for 10 yards in last week's preseason opener against Cincinnati. Despite the injury, Bowe could see some action in Sunday's preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
--K Ryan Succop did not practice on Saturday with the Chiefs because of inflammation in his groin, according to head coach Andy Reid. Succop kicked Thursday evening in the team's opening preseason game and showed no problem at that time. His status is day-to-day.
--DE Mike DeVito actually broke his left hand, not a finger in practice on August 4. Head coach Andy Reid originally called it a broken finger, but changed that on Saturday, calling the injury a broken hand. His status is day-to-day.
--LB Devan Walker was added to the roster Saturday, after the Chiefs released LB Dezman Moses. Walker went to training camp last year with San Diego as an undrafted rookie but suffered a knee injury in practice and was eventually released by the Chargers. Walker was on the practice field Saturday morning.
--WR Mark Harrison returned to practice Saturday after missing a week of workouts due to a hamstring injury.
--WR Junior Hemingway returned to practice Saturday after missing nearly two weeks of workouts due to a hamstring injury.
--SS Eric Berry was held out of the preseason opener against Cincinnati as a precaution due to his sore left heel. Berry practiced in the days before the game against the Bengals, but Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said they wanted to be careful with their Pro Bowl safety.
--RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas produced 118 all-purpose yards in the Chiefs' preseason opener against Cincinnati and that was with just three plays where the ball was in his hands. Thomas had an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown, a 35-yard kickoff return and one rushing attempt for three yards. He was not targeted in the passing game.
--RB Joe McKnight has been given the go ahead for full-time practice participation after missing the bulk of the first two weeks of training camp recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his knee. McKnight had the procedure in mid-June, after the Chiefs' offseason program ended and he has been working hard at rehab.
--S Daniel Sorensen got a chance to start the Chiefs' preseason opener against Cincinnati when the coaches held Eric Berry out of the game with a sore heel. The undrafted rookie out of Brigham Young has been impressive in training camp practices and has picked up the team's defensive scheme.
--S Malcolm Bronson played his first football game in 23 months and provided a major highlight when he returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown against Cincinnati. Bronson suffered an ACL injury on Sept. 15, 2012 when his McNeese State team faced Weber State. He spent all of last season on the sidelines with the Chiefs and his offseason and training camp performances have given him a chance to make the final 53-man roster.
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