KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs trudged to training camp on the campus of Missouri Western with only a couple of positions up for grabs, one of the benefits of having a veteran team coming off an AFC West title.
The starting job opposite cornerback Marcus Peters remains that way.
A rash of injuries to just about everybody on the depth chart has kept some of the main instigators from taking part in the race. Those who have made it onto the field for the first two preseason games have yet to distinguish themselves, and that leaves Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton in a rather tough position heading into Game 3 — typically the final dress rehearsal — on Friday night in Seattle.
Steven Nelson was listed as a starter on the depth chart released this week, but the undersized third-year pro is better suited to the nickel position. Terrance Mitchell was the backup, but hasn’t practiced in weeks because of a hamstring injury. Phillip Gaines was listed as the backup behind Peters, but he started on the other side in last week’s preseason game against Cincinnati.
So much for some clarity in the cornerback competition.
“I think we’re growing,” Chiefs secondary coach Al Harris insisted. “We’ve got an extremely close room regardless of who’s in there, but I think we’re growing as a unit.
“Usually the secondary takes a little more time as far as once camp starts to get everybody on the same page,” he said, “but I think the guys are doing an extremely good job of taking coaching points from the room and bringing them out here to the field.”
That doesn’t sound like a coach who is worried about how things will shake out.
There is reason for that, too. Just about everyone fighting for playing time has been on the field in some capacity, giving the Chiefs a wealth of experience at the position.
Nelson has become an integral part of the defense after starting 14 games a year ago. Mitchell was a midseason pickup last year who performed so well down the stretch that the starting job was thought to be his to lose. And Gaines has made 13 starts and appeared in 27 games in his injury-plagued career.
Even backups such as De’Vante Bausby, Kenneth Acker and Jacoby Glenn have NFL experience.
Then there’s the fact that, regardless of who wins the starting job, a handful of guys will be called upon at some point this season. That’s just like in the modern, pass-happy NFL, where teams who expect to compete for a division title and the Super Bowl require plenty of depth in the secondary.
“There is a lot of competition out there,” Nelson said, “so every day is a work day.”
Getting that work in has been the biggest challenge of camp, though.
Gaines hurt his finger in the Chiefs’ preseason opener, though he practiced through the pain. Nelson and Acker have dealt with groin injuries. Bausby has worked through an ankle injury. Glenn is currently out with a concussion, while another backup, JR Nelson, is sidelined by a heel injury.
Mitchell’s injury may be the most frustrating, given not only the sizable role he’s expected to play but also what coach Andy Reid has called his biggest hurdle: learning the scheme.
“It’s a matter of him knowing what’s going on. He’s a talented athlete,” Reid said. “We ask those guys to line up and play a lot of man-to-man coverage. It’s a matter of getting used to that.”
Reid has yet to express any concern that the secondary will be settled — and healthy — by the Chiefs’ opener. But considering their opponent Sept. 7, perhaps there should be a sense of urgency: Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champion Patriots.
On the road, no less.