Insider Blog: Off The Beaten Path

Posted May 29, 2010

Three positional battles that haven't been talked about

The Chiefs have yet to wear full pads for a single practice in 2010, but jockeying for positions on a roster chalk full of opportunity has already begun. Throughout OTAs we’ve highlighted some of the position battles that are to be had for this upcoming season, but mainly only those of high profile positions have made the rounds.

We’ve talked about the battles waging for roster slots in the defensive backfield – 15 players in total, many of who play multiple positions. It looks wide open.

We’ve also talked about the positioning for playing time amongst the wide receivers, particularly out of the slot position. Add the tight ends, centers and inside linebackers to the list as well.

Truth is, there are far more positions on this team classified as “up for grabs” rather than “safe” at the moment. While many of the positional battles mentioned above will be both well followed and well documented throughout the rest of spring and into summer, there are other positional battles lurking in the shadows that have generally gone overlooked. These are the battles that aren’t for starting positions, but that will go a long way in determining the final few roster slots on this football team.

Here are three positional battles that I find interesting, but remain off the beaten path.

Job: 3rd Running Back

Incumbent: Kolby Smith

2009 Review: After Larry Johnson was released last November, everyone behind him on the depth chart got bumped up a notch. Originally, the Chiefs opted to spilt carries between Jamaal Charles, Kolby Smith and Dantrell Savage until the combination of Charles’ breakout 2nd half and injuries to the other two backs put Charles in a feature role. Even though he played in just four games, Smith had the most carries (15) of any back not named Charles or Johnson in 2009.

Current Competition: The top two positions at running back appear to be set with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, but behind those two players Kansas City is open for business. It will be interesting to see which way the Chiefs go here, because there appears to be two very different routes in which Kansas City could take with the position group.

Scenario #1 – The Chiefs decide keep their third back as a traditional runner. This would bring the focus towards Smith, Javarris Williams, Jackie Battle and Kestahn Moore.

Scenario #2 – The Chiefs opt to have a “slash” serve as the third running back, in addition to another offensive role. This would bring the focus towards OW (offensive weapon) Dexter McCluster and RB/FB Tim Castille. Battle could possibly also fit this category if he were to continue lining up at fullback in certain package and the same can be said for rookie free agent Tervaris Johnson.

Job: 3rd Quarterback

Incumbent: Matt Gutierrez

2009 Review: Matt Cassel ended up starting every contest in 2009 outside of the season opener at Baltimore; primary backup Brodie Croyle started in place of the injured Cassel that day in Baltimore. Unlike the 2008 season that saw the rise of 3rd-teamer Tyler Thigpen, healthy quarterbacks left little opportunity for Gutierrez to see the playing field in 2009. Gutierrez served as the 3rd QB in 13 games, was inactive for two contests and played during mop-up time in one (10/25 vs. San Diego).

Current Competition: This off-season the Chiefs went out and added Tyler Palko to compete for a reserve role in the position group. Palko and Gutierrez have both worked with reserve offensive units this spring and it appears that the two are competing against one another for the 3rd QB job. A year ago, the Chiefs carried four quarterbacks into training camp – Cassel, Croyle, Thigpen and Ingle Martin (Gutierrez would later swap out with Martin during camp).

Also keep in mind that the dark horse here (as with every position group) is a late addition during or at the end of training camp. This is the way Gutierrez originally joined the club and was also the way that Thigpen became a Chief.

Job: 3rd Tackle

Incumbent: N/A

2009 Review: The Chiefs had a true sixth man on the offensive line in Wade Smith last season. It’s not often that your third tackle also represents your third guard and second center. As a result, Smith’s reserve role ended up seeing a total of nine starts between the tackle and guard positions in 2009. Wade is in Houston now, leaving sixth-man honors open for the taking. This year, it’s unlikely that one man will fill all five positions on the line as a reserve.

Current Competition: On paper, Ikechuku Ndukwe appears to be the favorite to win the job as 3rd tackle. He can play both guard and tackle, has the most experience (4th season), played in the most games a year ago (12) and started the most games last season (3) of anyone he’s competing with. Paper, however, doesn’t determine who wins NFL jobs.

Through the first two weeks of OTAs, Barry Richardson may represent the most competition for Ndukwe, but Colin Brown also has history as a tackle and there are a number of young and inexperienced players scratching their way towards an opportunity.

It’s never too early to talk about positional battles. The competition has already begun.

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