Here's why the Kansas City Chiefs' three-day mandatory minicamp is important
KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The Kansas City Chiefs put the finishing touches on 10 days of organized team activities last week.
Up next, a mandatory three-day minicamp Tuesday through Thursday before the team takes a little more than a month off ahead of training camp in late July.
The minicamp serves as an extension of OTAs, with classroom instruction and team-related drills — 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11, to name a few — during on-field install sessions. Live contact will remain prohibited by the NFL until the pads come on in training camp.
With the table set for minicamp, here are five situations to monitor.
Who shows up?
The Chiefs, for the most part, enjoyed a strong showing throughout OTAs, which are voluntary. And at one point, the Chiefs had 81 of 90 players on the offseason roster participating in Phase II of the voluntary portion of their offseason workout program leading into OTAs.
Of note, defensive end Frank Clark and cornerback Charvarius Ward were not present on the practice field during the three days of OTA media availability. Chiefs coach Andy Reid didn't specifically address why certain players weren't at OTAs — and he didn't have to, given the voluntary nature of the workouts.
Minicamp attendance, however, is mandatory and players are subject to fines if they fail to report without an excused absence.
And missing this minicamp won't be cheap.
Under the new CBA, which was negotiated in 2020, a team can fine a player for an unexcused absence using an elevating scale: $15,980 for the first day; $31,961 for the second days; and $47,936 for the third day.
If a player misses all three days, he becomes subject to a $95,877 fine.
Patrick Mahomes Protection Plan
The Chiefs allocated more offseason resources to their offensive line than any other aspect of their roster, not only overhauling the starting lineup but also the depth behind it.
How do they envision it all coming together? Will it be rookie Creed Humphrey at center or free agent-signing Austin Blythe? With the Kyle Long injury, will Laurent Duvernay-Tardif step right back into his starting role at right guard after opting out of the 2020 season? Does Mike Remmers hold on to his right tackle starting job, or are the Chiefs higher on the potential of Lucas Niang?
A mandatory minicamp in mid-June might seem a little early to be making such decisions, but offensive line coach Andy Heck said the timing actually works out well for the Chiefs.
"I think that the sooner the better that you can figure that out and have guys start working together," he said.
Who plays the edge?
After the Chiefs dropped to 19th in the league in sacks last season, they stated publicly that they were out to improve on the edge.
They've yet to make an impact addition — even bypassing Melvin Ingram after he visited them in Kansas City — because they believe the improvement can come in-house.
That in-house confidence would start with Chris Jones. He last played defensive end in former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's 3-4 scheme; during his Pro Bowl seasons of 2019 and 2020, he played mostly on the inside.
But the addition of tackle Jarran Reed will give the Chiefs the flexibility to push Jones back to the outside — if they're willing to give up his production on the interior.
That's a question current defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has acknowledged he's grappling with, and this week's mandatory minicamp could offer a glimpse of his early leanings.
Sorting the linebackers
Anthony Hitchens is locked in at middle linebacker, but the Chiefs have decisions to make at the strongside and weakside linebacker spots.
Second-year pro Willie Gay Jr., who declared himself as "100 percent" healthy after sustaining a knee injury during the last postseason, and rookie Nick Bolton are under the spotlight. The Chiefs' coaching staff will continue to give the two young linebackers a hard look alongside veterans Hitchens, Ben Niemann, Dorian O'Daniel and Darius Harris.
While it's early, Gay and Bolton did their part during OTAs to generate enthusiasm from the coaching staff.
"Both those guys, we're really excited to have and really looking forward to what they can do," Spagnuolo said on the sixth day of OTAs.
The Chiefs won't be able to fully evaluate Gay and Bolton until the pads come on. They're linebackers, a position group known mostly for delivering jarring hits.
But how Gay and Bolton continue to grow within the scheme, with an understanding of position-group and individual responsibilities, will help set the stage for training-camp battles in which starting roles will be up for grabs.
Long's injury was unfortunate for the Chiefs' offensive line, as he was projected to compete for a starting job at right guard.
His injury, sustained last week during the non-contact portion of the team's offseason workout program, highlighted the importance of getting through OTAs in good health. While injuries are a part of the game, the Chiefs do not need another one, especially to a key player when the pads aren't even on yet.
The Chiefs need to emerge from minicamp with no new injuries and enter the break relatively healthy for training camp.