Question #1: What is going on with Justin Houston?
When the Chiefs drafted Dee Ford in the first round of the NFL draft this past May, it was widely considered a move for depth and to set up a long-term successor for Tamba Hali who’s not getting any younger and accounts for a large cap hit this year and next. What wasn’t anticipated was Justin Houston skipping mini-camps. However, he showed up on time with the rest of his teammates as a show of good faith when camp opened on Thursday afternoon. His contract situation is something the organization needs to rectify.
Houston is a budding superstar in this league, a pass rusher who’s compiled 27 sacks in his three NFL seasons, and has increased his sack total every year in amassing that total. The Chiefs released Brandon Flowers giving them over $10 million in cap space which can be used to sign Houston long term.
Question #2: With Brandon Flowers gone who steps up?
Cutting bait with Brandon Flowers became an inevitable conclusion in the offseason. Flowers was an exceptional player during most parts of his tenure in Kansas City. However, last season in Bob Sutton’s new defensive scheme, he looked and played like a fish out of water.
After finishing in the top 10 in Pro Football Focus’ CB rankings from 2009-2012, Flowers fell to 85th last season. Most of that fall has to do with the fact; he’s just physically not built to play press man-to-man coverage like Sutton requires of all his defensive backs. That forced the Chiefs to relegate his services to nickel-back at the whopping price of $7.5 million. However, that doesn’t change the fact he was still the most talented cornerback on the roster.
Sean Smith, and the much maligned Marcus Cooper, will be penciled into starting roles though Chris Owens could easily unseat Smith. Although, Ron Parker, looked good in mini camps; and then there’s rookie Philip Gaines. None of those names jump off the page and scream solution to anyone. In the deep secondary, Eric Berry will be one starting safety and the other will likely be Husain Abdullah, Another option might be Sanders Commings but he opened training camp unable to get on the field/
Question #3: Who will line up opposite WR Dwayne Bowe?
Last season the Wide Receiver position for Kansas City was underwhelming. The solution heading into camp seems to be in relying on the same crew from last season. Even though Bowe underachieved last season, we saw his massive potential in the playoff game against Indianapolis. But that game aside, for a large majority of the season, he was absent.
Donnie Avery showed enough inconsistency to see why he’s been a journeyman receiver much of his career. Outside of those veterans we are limited to several unknown commodities; Junior Hemingway, A.J. Jenkins, Weston Dressler, Frankie Hammond, and Kyle Williams.
Andy Reid seems to have a lot of faith in A.J. Jenkins to take on a major role in KC’s offense this season. Jenkins a former failed draft pick in San Francisco was traded to Kansas City in exchange for failed draft pick Jon Baldwin before the start of the regular season. Though he showed a couple flashes in the final season against San Diego, he still has never been given the opportunity that awaits him this summer.
Junior Hemingway is an intriguing player. I’ve seen him the last couple of years in training camp where he looks brilliant, but he has yet to have that brilliance translate into the regular season. But with Dexter McCluster gone, he could get the lions share of opportunities as a slot receiver. Former CFL receiver, Weston Dressler, has drawn comparisons to Wes Welker but he’s a long shot to make the roster.
Frankie Hammond is an undrafted free agent from Florida who has some modest upside. He along with veteran, Kyle Williams, who cost his Chiefs Quarterback, Alex Smith, a super bowl appearance by coughing up a pair of special teams punt returns, is finally healthy to continue his NFL dream.
Of that mix, the most likely heroes this season are Hemingway and Jenkins. If neither can excel in their new roles this season, this offense leaves Smith and the Chiefs in a very precarious position on offense.
Question #4 – What will the offensive line look like in 2014?
In 2013 the Chiefs’ offensive line gelled midway through the regular season. At its peak, (from left to right) Branden Albert, Jeff Allen, Rodney Hudson, Geoff Schwartz, and Donald Stephenson brought stability to the unit. Number one overall pick, Eric Fisher, struggled mightily trying to play right tackle in his rookie season and escape injuries.
With 2014 upon us, Branden Albert is in Miami, Geoff Scwartz is in New York, Jon Asamoah is in Atlanta, and Eric Fisher is slated to be the man protecting Alex Smith’s blind side. The offensive line has been a much maligned group by Chiefs fans, who were so spoiled by the group KC fielded from 2001-20015. So no matter how well any unit plays going forward, that’s always going to be the moniker that fans set for themselves.
Luckily, Smith is a quarterback with good mobility and the ability to make things happen when he moves his legs. But it doesn’t change the fact, he’s at his best when he’s well protected. Fisher absolutely must take a massive leap from year one to year two for that to happen.
At right tackle, Donald Stephenson is firmly planted as the starter. In fact, he’s so valuable to the Chiefs that if Fisher goes down, they can move him from right to left tackle without a drop off in play. Although rookie tackle, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, may push him at that spot though we believe he’ll end up guard. Until then, that leaves, Rodney Hudson (who I maintain is a better guard than center) as the teams starting center. However, he’ll get a push from second year man, Eric Kush, who came into camp in phenomenal shape. In my view, he can play either interior positions for the Chiefs.
Guard, Jeff Allen, played well last year but this is a contract year for the former Illinois standout, so his overall growth could be beneficial to both parties. After that, Rishaw Johnson, who showed some flashes in the San Diego game, could become a solid back-up. Two more names to ponder for playing time include Guards, Jeff Linkenbach, and rookie, Zach Fulton.
Andy Reid came into the NFL coaching fraternity as an offensive line coach. So ultimately, like he did a year ago, he’ll put the best five men on his line. If that’s the case from left to right I give you, Eric Fisher, Jeff Allen, Eric Kush, Rodney Hudson, and Donald Stephenson in the home opener against the Tennessee Titans.
Photos Courtesy of USA Today Sports: Charles LeClair (Junior Hemingway) / Denny Medley (Dee Ford & Aaron Murray)
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