Early July marks an odd time of the year in the National Football League.
Players are away and the news cycle is quiet, but speculation heading into training camp is at an all-time high. The outlook and potential, both for teams and individual players, are at their peak.
Such is the case for Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Phillip Gaines, who after making a name for himself last year will seek an even more expanded role this season.
This offseason, Gaines said the most significant change for him came in the belief in his own ability.
"It's a big difference, just from pure confidence," he explained. "Last year, you're coming in and seeing all these players you've never seen before, never played with before. You're not playing as fast as you usually do. "Now that I got some playing time and saw how things move, I have a lot more confidence, so I can play a lot faster."
Gaines' 2014 campaign began with instant success on special teams, as he garnered a combined 18 snaps in Weeks 1 and 2 combined. In Week 3 against the Miami Dolphins, he chased down kick returner Landry Jones on what could have been a touchdown and later in the game, recorded a thunderous tackle on him after the Chiefs punted the ball from their own end zone.
"One of the biggest plays in my short career so far is special teams," he said. "That's what got me going."
Gaines was rewarded for his tremendous play on special teams with opportunity against the Chargers in Week 7, when he began taking defensive snaps in the nickelback position.
"That was a position that we really weren't sure was his best position," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton admitted this offseason, "but he went in and did a great job stepping in there and I think that really helped him.
"He got a chance to get on the field, he got some exposure in there and I think that settled him down."
Gaines was very much appreciative of the opportunity.
"If the coaches ask me to play it, then I'm going to have to pick it up and play it," he said of the nickelback. "There aren't a lot of opportunities to get on the field. It's hard to get out there, so any chance that you can."
Sutton believes that's what propelled him into 2015.
"There is a transition for everybody that comes in the league and I think each guy is a little different, each position is a little bit different," Sutton added. "I think he's done a great job ... I think he has come back and been really good in this camp so far."
Gaines came back to 2015 offseason workouts six pounds heavier, weighing in at 188, and the strength he returned with caught the eye of some of the Chiefs most important individuals.
Photos from the 2014 season of Phillip Gaines.
"You saw him continue to get better every week last year during the season," head coach Andy Reid said. "He's gotten bigger and stronger, he's lived in there with (strength and conditioning coach) Barry (Rubin) and so it's paying off for him."
The manner in which he played even made an impression on Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith.
"Now, he's just seeing the game more," Smith explained, "route concepts, things of that nature, learning splits, releases and stems, just being a student of the game. He's starting to pick that thing up really well."
As Smith noted, the positive hasn't been just his on-the-field feats in the offseason, but his general understanding of the game as a whole, an understanding of where to be at what time.
That type of progress only comes from spending the necessary time in the film room.
"Any time you can watch film and learn tendencies, you're going to increase your play speed," he said. "Once you focus on that and get everything working, you could be a good player."
Looking into 2015, Gaines will look to take everything—his game experience, his strength and conditioning, his offseason film work—and turn it into a starting role at the cornerback position.
Last season, he was limited due to injuries, but his small body of work impressed the right people.
This offseason, he helped that cause, and training camp will be the time he looks to as the way to cement a role on the first-team defense.