Injuries among top questions facing Chiefs heading into camp
The Chiefs must figure out how to divvy up touches among Jamaal Charles, who missed most of last season with an ACL tear, and Charcandrick West (left) and Spencer Ware (right), who performed admirably in his absence.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs might want to have Dr. James Andrews on speed dial.
Or better yet, fly him into training camp.
When the Chiefs begin their run-up to the regular season on the campus of Missouri Western the last week of July, they will do so with the biggest question marks involving the knees of some key players: running back Jamaal Charles, pass rusher Tamba Hali and star outside linebacker Justin Houston.
Charles had surgery on his right ACL early last season, Hali had a procedure to clean out his knees and Houston had surgery on his left ACL — performed by Andrews, the renowned orthopedic surgeon — in February.
How the three of them fare this season could be the difference between success and failure.
"The important thing with them," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, "is you don’t rush it."
So Charles will be treated with velvet gloves during training camp, even though he participated in some offseason minicamps. Hali will also see limited reps. Houston is unlikely to practice until well into the regular season, though the Chiefs are optimistic he will make it onto the field at some point.
"He’s where he needs to be right now," Reid said. "He’s a hard worker, so he’s bound and determined to get back. I’ve told you before, when you’re around him, you have this optimism. I feel optimistic that he is going to be back in a short period of time, but in reality, it’s going to take a little bit."
There are plenty of other pressing issues facing Kansas City this fall. Here are some of them:
RUNNING BACK COMMITTEE: The Chiefs survived without Charles last season thanks to the tandem of Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. Knile Davis is still on the roster, too. So one of the big questions facing Kansas City is whether there will be enough opportunities to go around.
"There’s competition, but it’s not competition individually," Ware said. "It’s reflectively as a group, saying, ‘Let’s do our job and let’s score touchdowns.’"
STAFF TURNOVER: Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson departed in the offseason to become head coach in Philadelphia, and Reid turned to a pair of trusted lieutenants to fill his role. Matt Nagy was promoted from quarterbacks coach to co-offensive coordinator and will be the voice in the helmet of quarterback Alex Smith, while Brad Childress became the other co-offensive coordinator after working on special projects.
"Matt’s got a great mind, and obviously Andy’s got a fertile mind," said Childress, who spent time with Reid in Philadelphia before a stint as Vikings head coach. "I’ll be able to add to that."
BACKING UP ALEX: Chase Daniel was so dependable as the backup quarterback the past few years that he signed a big contract to do the same thing in Philadelphia. That leaves an opening for long-time scout squad member Tyler Bray, developmental quarterback Aaron Murray and rookie Kevin Hogan to earn an important job.
The Chiefs could also sign a veteran backup once cuts begin happening this fall, but the coaching staff sounds as if the trio will ultimately spit out Smith’s understudy.
"We have a long way to go," said Murray, who enters camp at the head of the line. "This is what football is all about. It’s about competition against other teams and your team, and that’s what makes everyone better."
ROOKIE ROLES: The Chiefs stockpiled picks in the draft and now begin to see what they landed, starting with second-rounder Chris Jones, a defensive tackle who should slide into the rotation immediately.
The bigger questions lie in the defensive backfield and on special teams.
Third-round pick KeiVarae Russell, fourth-round choice Eric Murray and seventh-round selection D.J. White are all joining the cornerback fray, while speedy Tyreek Hill could emerge as the punt and kick returner.
WIDE RECEIVER: The seemingly ever-present question mark in Kansas City is: Who will catch passes this season? Jeremy Maclin gives the Chiefs a solid No. 1, but they’ve been searching for depth ever since Reid’s arrival. They took fliers on Rod Streater and Mike Williams in free agency, drafted Hill and Demarcus Robinson, and still hope that Chris Conley and Albert Wilson can develop into go-to targets.
"They’re kind of growing up before our eyes here," Reid said, "which is fun to watch."