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The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Report date: July 24 for rookies; July 27 for veterans
Where: St. Joseph, Mo.
1. What will happen with the Alex Smith-Patrick Mahomes dynamic?
On the surface this seems like a cut-and-dried situation. Smith is the starter for a team coming off an AFC West championship, and Mahomes is the raw rookie who will sit and learn. That sounds great. But since 2006 (Aaron Rodgers’ draft year), the only first-round quarterbacks to not start a game as rookies are Brady Quinn and Jake Locker. Quarterbacks don’t sit anymore. Every time the Chiefs lose or Smith plays poorly or just has a below-average game, there will be calls for Mahomes. That’s life when there’s a first-round quarterback on the roster. Smith has done fine as Chiefs quarterback, but he’s not exciting. Mahomes, with his cannon arm, is the shiny new toy. Smith has already dealt with this, when he was the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback and was replaced by Colin Kaepernick. Smith has been around long enough to know this is a potentially combustible situation. And just wait if Mahomes has a big preseason.
2. Can Tyreek Hill become a No. 1 receiver?
Once the Chiefs cut Jeremy Maclin, it was a signal that Hill is their undisputed No. 1 receiver. It’s an interesting gamble. On one hand, Hill was electric every time he touched the ball as a rookie. He’s perhaps the fastest player in the NFL. The Chiefs should want to get him the ball much more often. But is he more than a gadget player? Hill had just 61 catches and 24 carries last season. Can he handle a huge increase in touches? The Chiefs better hope so. Now that Maclin is gone, there’s nobody after Hill on the depth chart who comes close to projecting as a No. 1 receiver. Hill’s development is crucial in training camp.
3. Can Derrick Johnson return from an Achilles injury?
Johnson, one of the best inside linebackers in football, tore his Achilles tendon in 2014. In 2015 he returned from that injury and had 116 tackles. So Johnson has done this before. For the second time Johnson is coming back from a torn Achilles. He suffered the injury last Dec. 8. This time around, he’s 34 years old. It won’t be as easy to return to form. The Chiefs are working Johnson back slowly. Kansas City’s defense is strong, with some key stars. But if Johnson doesn’t rebound to his typical level, the middle of the Chiefs’ defense won’t be the same. His progress in camp will be monitored closely.
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