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AFC West camp preview: Some questions, but Chiefs feel roster is strong

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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — With their offseason work completed, the Kansas City Chiefs go to training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph this week with nothing on the radar screen but developing players and units for the third season of the Andy Reid-John Dorsey regime.

That was assured when the team and outside linebacker Justin Houston agreed on a six-year, $101 million contract on July 15. After two years of talks between the Chiefs and Houston, they finally came to an agreement that ties the NFL sack leader to Kansas City for multiple seasons.

The signing left Dorsey and his negotiating folks in the front office with a completed dance card and still more than $8 million in the salary-cap bank should they decide they need more help after they get a look at the talent on the roster in training camp.

“I feel that we have enough flexibility to where we’ll be able to do more deals,” Dorsey said of the Chiefs’ cap situation heading into camp and the regular season ahead.

“If you can retain your own football players, great football players, that helps you sustain moving forward. (Houston) is young enough to where I foresee many great years in the Kansas City Chiefs organization.”

What pleased the Chiefs more than anything else was Houston’s reaction to hitting a big payday, with $53 million in guaranteed money.

“Once you get paid, it’s not like you won the lottery; you still have a lot of work to do,” said Houston. “You still have to prove yourself. You can still get better each and every day, so that is my goal.

“The season is right here. We’ve got to get ready for the season and hopefully it’s going to be a big year.”

Heading to camp, the only question the Chiefs face is the status of safety Eric Berry. His treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma was completed in early June and there’s been no word from Berry or the team about his status and what his doctors in Atlanta have reported to him on his progress and status for the coming season.

Otherwise, there are no known reasons that any of the other 89 players on the club’s roster won’t be in St. Joe within the week. That will help elevate the competition level, as Reid and Dorsey have built the deepest and most talented roster they’ve taken into a season since they arrived in 2013 to clean up the mess left by former general manager Scott Pioli.

There are starting jobs to be finalized at center, right guard, right tackle and wide receiver on offense, and left cornerback and strong safety in the secondary. The Chiefs also want to see how defensive end Mike DeVito and linebacker Derrick Johnson bounce back from their ruptured Achilles tendons that both suffered in the 2014 regular-season opener.

CAMP CALENDAR

July 28: Rookies reported

July 31: Veterans report

Aug. 1: First practice

Aug. 19: Camp ends.

–Team strength: linebacker.

The Chiefs have a lot of money invested in their linebackers, especially after the signing of Justin Houston to a six-year, $101 million contract with over $52 million in guaranteed dollars. But he was the team’s best player last year and the top pass rusher in the NFL with his 22 sacks. Houston, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson have all been selected to the Pro Bowl, and while the latter two are in the final year of their contracts, they are expected to report to training camp in good health after strong offseason work. Last year’s first-round choice Dee Ford is in the wings, as are fourth- and fifth-round picks from the 2015 draft: Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander.

–Breakout player: Left tackle Eric Fisher.

He battled through his rookie season, playing at right tackle and surviving a serious shoulder injury and then a sports hernia. Fisher’s second season began with him rehabbing surgery on both injuries and moving to left tackle. His play was fairly typical for a young lineman, but given his spot as the NFL’s first selection in the 2013 draft, he’s been a disappointment in the eyes of some evaluators. But he’s had a full offseason of work in the weight room, the classroom and on the field. There hasn’t been rehab or adjusting to a new position. Plus, the Chiefs acquired veteran guard Ben Grubbs to play next to Fisher, providing a talented and experienced player to help him.

–Work in progress: Offensive line.

The Chiefs’ success on offense will depend on the performance of their offensive line. Matters seem settled on the left side with Fisher at tackle and Grubbs handling the guard spot. The other three spots are a work in progress.

Right now, Eric Kush has held on to his spot with the No. 1 unit at center, although draft choice Mitch Morse is breathing down his neck. At the end of minicamp it appeared Morse had a good chance of being the opening right guard. At right tackle, it appeared the coaches were working to decide among Jeff Allen, Donald Stephenson and former Green Bay first-round choice Derek Sherrod.

Head coach Andy Reid says he will start the five best blockers and build the offensive line continuity from there. The offseason sessions have featured players changing positions and moving from left to right as the coaches sought versatility.

“I think we’re getting to where we need to be,” said Grubbs. “Of course it’s a journey when you’re evolving the camaraderie of the offensive line. We’re definitely working together and getting that experience.”


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