Quarterback is biggest question for AFC West champion Chiefs
By DAVE SKRETTA
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) It would be a bit disingenuous to say the fate of the Kansas City Chiefs this season rests on the strong right arm of Patrick Mahomes II considering the second-year pro has started all of one NFL game.
Still, that's how most people view the Chiefs as they report to training camp.
Yet the reality is there are a number of question marks as the club packs its trucks and makes the hour-long drive north to Missouri Western State University.
Mahomes may be the biggest, but the way these questions sort out will ultimately determine whether a franchise that went to the playoffs four times in five years under quarterback Alex Smith can win a third straight AFC West title.
There are holes everywhere on defense. There is a new offensive coordinator and a few new assistant coaches. There is a leadership and experience void after the departure of longtime linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. And some crucial players are coming off major injuries.
In short, the Chiefs could be very good this season. Or they could be very bad.
Good luck trying to peg where they end up.
"We have a lot of new faces and we welcome new faces," Chiefs coach Andy Reid conceded, "but they're learning and they've got great energy."
As the Chiefs' rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans report to camp on Sunday, here are some of the crucial story lines to watch throughout August and into September:
MAHOMES THE MAN: The team turns to the former Texas Tech star after Smith was traded to Washington this past offseason. The Chiefs traded up to select him 10th overall then gave him a redshirt season to learn the ropes, only to watch him dazzle in a Week 17 win at Denver when Smith and most of the starters got the weekend off.
The Chiefs have tried to help him out. They signed Sammy Watkins to pair with speedster Tyreek Hill in a potentially lethal wide receiver combo, and tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt give Kansas City perhaps the most talented skill position group in the league.
"Me and Patrick have a great bond. I feel like he is going to do great," said Hunt, the NFL rushing champion as a rookie last season. "He definitely already has a leader role and he is just able to go out there and make big plays. I am excited to see him get out there."
CORNERBACK COMPETITION: The Chiefs traded talented malcontent Marcus Peters to the Rams, hoping the improved locker-room atmosphere would offset the loss of a skilled playmaker. Now, the Chiefs will have to find two new starting cornerbacks after also releasing veteran Terrance Mitchell.
Kendall Fuller came over in the Smith trade and is the front-runner for one job, and Steven Nelson is the leading candidate at the other, provided he can stay healthy. But keep an eye on Raiders castoff David Amerson, former third-round pick Will Redmond and rookies Tremon Smith and Arrion Springs.
Smith was the Chiefs' sixth-round pick out of Central Arkansas while Springs impressed during the team's voluntary summer workouts as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon.
INJURY ISLAND: The Chiefs will rely heavily on Eric Berry to lead this season, but they also need him to perform at a Pro Bowl level again after tearing his Achilles tendon in last season's opener.
Wide receiver Chris Conley will likewise be counted upon after a season-ending injury in Week 5.
NEW VOICES: Eric Bieniemy was promoted to offensive coordinator after Matt Nagy took the top job in Chicago, which means Mahomes will have a new voice in his ear. And a loud one, too. There are few coaches that have the ability to bark quite like the former NFL running back.
The Chiefs also have a new quarterbacks coach in Mike Kafka and decided to split the linebackers job between outside coach Mike Smith and inside coach Mark DeLeone.
OTHER JOBS: Backup jobs on offense are wide open: Jace Amaro and Tim Wright will compete for tight end time, Spencer Ware and Damien Williams are fighting for time behind Hunt, and DeMarcus Robinson, Jehu Chesson, De'Anthony Thomas and undrafted rookie Byron Pringle are in the mix at wide receiver.
In the defensive backfield, keep an eye on rookies Armani Watts and Dorian O'Daniel as they compete for the starting free safety job. Roster holdover Leon McQuay could also be in the mix.
"This organization is full of winners," defensive end Chris Jones said. "Everybody is eager to win and they are going to take the necessary steps to put the pieces together."
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Updated July 21, 2018