The Kansas City Chiefs open training camp on July 30 at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph. Here’s a closer look at the Chiefs' camp, which wraps up on Aug. 18:
Top storyline: So much of what the Chiefs try to do defensively centers on the varied abilities of outside linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry. But the Chiefs are unsure if either player will be with them at training camp. Houston had surgery on his ACL in February, putting in doubt his availability for camp as well as the early portion of the regular season. Berry, the Chiefs' franchise player, remains unsigned and won't join the Chiefs until he agrees to the one-year contract he has been offered that's worth about $10.8 million.
Both are versatile players. Houston is a premier pass-rusher but also excels when he drops into coverage or defends the run. Berry also is strong in both phases of the game. Houston's replacement is former first-round draft pick Dee Ford, who had a three-sack game last season against San Diego but has otherwise struggled with his consistency. The Chiefs without Houston last season won their final five regular-season games but it was against a collection of sub-.500 opponents. If the Chiefs are without Berry, they would be missing three of their top four safeties from last season and they weren't aggressive in the offseason about replacing them.
If Alex Smith throws a lot of interceptions, the Chiefs are in trouble: Smith isn’t the kind of quarterback to have big stats or carry a team on his back. But when he limits his turnovers, the Chiefs are good enough to win a lot of games. It’s a successful statistical season for Smith if his touchdown-to-interception ratio is about 3-to-1, as it has been for Smith in each of his three seasons with the Chiefs.
Player who will have fans buzzing: Rookie Tyreek Hill is fast. Very fast. He joined the Chiefs under a cloud of controversy after being drafted in the fifth round despite his guilty plea last year to domestic violence. Hill wants to be a "better man" and "better citizen." The Chiefs hope his play, and speed, will speak for themselves.
Position battle worth watching: The Chiefs don't have many starting spots available other than on the offensive line. But the most interesting competition will be for the No. 2 quarterback spot. Tyler Bray went through offseason practice holding that position, and it could be his to lose. Bray has a big arm and more potential than either of the other candidates, Aaron Murray and rookie Kevin Hogan. The Chiefs are due for some unfortunate injury luck regarding starter Smith. He has missed just one game in three seasons in Kansas City because of injury.
That rookie should start: Fourth-round draft pick Parker Ehinger spent a lot of time during offseason practice as the starter at left guard. The job could be his to lose at training camp. None of the other eight draft picks is likely to win a starting job, though a few others could have significant roles. Hill could be the Chiefs' punt and kickoff return specialist, and get some work at wide receiver as well.
Veteran whose job is in jeopardy: Running back Knile Davis, once considered the eventual replacement for Jamaal Charles, will begin training camp fourth on the depth chart if Charles is ready to practice. The Chiefs won’t have roster room to retain Davis if Charles, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West stay healthy. De'Anthony Thomas will have a difficult time making it if Hill is as impressive in camp as he was during offseason practice.
Youth at cornerback: Marcus Peters is entering his second NFL season, but he’s the old man for the Chiefs at cornerback in terms of career starts. Among the other top three cornerback candidates, Phillip Gaines has eight starts and Steven Nelson and KeiVarae Russell none. Russell is a third-round draft pick. The Chiefs lost their most experienced cornerback when Sean Smith departed via free agency. But the Chiefs don’t appear fazed by the lack of experience at these positions. "There’s a learning curve that goes on, but you don’t have to be a 10-year veteran to do this," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said.
Continuity on the offensive line: The Chiefs last season started nine different combinations on the offensive line, some necessary because of injuries but many by choice. They constantly shuffled players in and out of the starting lineup at camp and never really settled on a favorite combination. They are more likely to pick five starters and stick with them if they can. That group likely will consist of Eric Fisher and Geoff Schwartz at tackle, Mitch Morse at center and Ehinger and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif at guard.
What fans will be saying after camp: Much depends on the health of key veterans like Houston, Charles and linebacker Tamba Hali. But if those situations are resolved favorably and injuries don’t hit the Chiefs hard elsewhere, it’s reasonable to think Kansas City can reach the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time in more than 20 years.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Chiefs clubhouse page.