Chiefs OTAs Primer

Posted May 20, 2012

A position-by-position preview as OTAs begin

The Chiefs will be on the field Monday afternoon for the first of 10 OTA practices.

A three-day mandatory minicamp will follow the 10 OTA dates, running Kansas City’s offseason program into mid-June before breaking until training camp.

Though OTAs consist of helmets-only practices, the on-field sessions will be the closest thing resembling a training camp practice until the Chiefs head to St. Joseph at the end of July. Team offense vs. defense drills are permitted, keeping practices competitive without live contact.

The fight for starting positions and roster spots begins with these non-contact practices. Here’s a position-by-position preview of the Chiefs roster heading into OTAs.

Quarterbacks: Matt Cassel will guide the first-team offense while Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi compete for the No. 2 job. It’s a big year for Cassel, who’ll be operating under his fifth offensive coordinator in four seasons as he looks to regain Pro Bowl form.

Cassel has had several weeks of on-field work with new OC Brian Daboll, but OTAs will be his first opportunity to operate Kansas City’s new playbook against a defense.

Running Back: Free agent addition Peyton Hillis is in line to get plenty of work with the first-team offense as Jamaal Charles continues to rehab from last year’s season-ending left knee injury. Charles isn’t likely to see much competitive work against defenders until training camp.

“Just like when I had my shoulder surgery (following the 2009 season), I waited the whole offseason to go back,” Charles said. “I didn’t do anything really during OTAs or minicamp.”

The spotlight at running back during OTAs will be the team’s use of Dexter McCluster and how sixth-round draft pick Cyrus Gray fits into the backfield rotation. Both players should get plenty of work with Charles easing back into action.

Fullback: The biggest question at fullback is how Daboll plans to utilize the position? He’s operated with both traditional and versatile fullbacks during previous coordinating stops.

This position is currently wide open with two inexperienced players competing for the job. Last year’s starter, Le’Ron McClain, signed a three-year free agent deal with the Chargers earlier this offseason.

Shane Bannon, a seventh-round pick out of Yale in 2011, will compete with undrafted rookie Taylor Gentry during OTAs. Bannon spent the majority of his rookie season on the practice squad injured list.

Wide Receiver: Dwayne Bowe’s absence from OTAs isn’t ideal, but it isn’t the worst thing either. While Bowe and the club continue contract discussions, Jonathan Baldwin will get an opportunity to work with the first-team offense as a primary receiving target.

Steve Breaston will serve as the veteran leader of the group in the interim. He recently commented on the importance of Baldwin’s development this offseason.

“Right now it’s early, and with OTAs, especially with JB, he’s going to develop,” Breaston said. “JB is raw, but JB is athletic and he can make plays. That’s why he’s here. When the offseason goes on and he gets the reps that he may not have had before because Dwayne isn’t here, he’s going to develop and he’s going to be a lot better of a receiver.”

Fourth-round draft pick Devon Wylie will also get an opportunity to work into the receiving rotation as the team’s slot receiver.

Tight End: Counting Steve Maneri’s position change from offensive tackle, the Chiefs have brought in four new players to compete for roster spots at tight end. Two of those additions include veterans with previous NFL starting experience in Kevin Boss and Martin Rucker.

Kansas City currently rosters six players at the position, though Tony Moeaki’s workload will be very limited as he continues to recover from left knee surgery.

Offensive Line: The starting five look mostly set with the exception of second-round draft pick Jeff Allen possibility making a run for Ryan Lilja’s left guard position. But don’t sell the veteran short in that competition as Lilja is both battle-tested and widely-regarded as a leader inside the position group.

Depth is still a question mark with very little experience behind the projected starting five. Aside from the two draft picks factoring into the mix – Allen and third-round pick Donald Stephenson – who is ready to step up and stake claim as one of the team’s primary reserves?

Nose Tackle: We know that Dontari Poe is a physical freak and that he most definitely looks the part. Past that, we’ll have to wait until the pads come on in order to learn more.

This is also a big offseason for 2011 sixth-round draft pick Jerrell Powe.

Defensive End: Reserve positions behind Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey are there for the taking. Veteran free agent addition Ropati Pitoitua makes the battle much more competitive and gives the Chiefs a true run-stopping “five-technique” in the reserve ranks.

Allen Bailey should be in line for more snaps after serving as a sub-package pass rush specialist last season, but will he factor into the base defense?

Inside Linebacker: How healthy is Brandon Siler? A free agent signee from San Diego last season, Siler looked in line to win the primary backup job at both inside positions prior to tearing his Achilles tendon late in training camp.

If healthy, Siler should once again factor as a big player in filling depth behind starters Derrick Johnson and Jovan Belcher.

Last week’s addition of Leon Williams gives the position another veteran option to compete with a young group of reserves.

Outside Linebacker: A handful of notable names will compete for jobs behind starters Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Andy Studebaker is the most experienced of a group that includes a pair of former fifth-round picks in Cameron Sheffield and Gabe Miller.

OTAs will offer our first true look at Miller, who was injured early in last year’s training camp and spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve.

Safety: The Chiefs currently carry 18 defensive backs on their roster with many of those players capable of playing multiple positions.

Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry will be held out of OTAs as his knee rehabilitation continues.

“I probably won’t be at OTAs just to be cautious,” Berry told Sports Radio 810 WHB last week. “There’s no rush. I will be working out with the team doing everything they’re doing. Just OTAs, I’ll probably sit out on that. Everything is good. We’re just trying to stay cautious. There’s no rush.”

Berry’s absence will leave the door open for players to compete for a roster spot while working with the first-team defense.

Cornerback: A new name will start opposite Brandon Flowers with the offseason addition of veteran Stanford Routt. While Routt learns to work in coverage with his new teammates, the competition for sub-package duties should be fierce.

Javier Arenas and Travis Daniels both return after seeing extensive duty as reserves last season. Former fourth-round draft pick Jalil Brown will look to take on a larger role in his second professional season.

Also, don’t dismiss fifth-round draft pick De’Quan Menzie from finding his way into the nickel role just because he’s beginning his NFL career as a safety.

Specialists: Each of the three specialists from last season return in P Dustin Colquitt, K Ryan Succop and LS Thomas Gafford. Kansas City will have an extra leg in OTAs as well with the addition of rookie free agent K Matt Szymanski.

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