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Brewing position battles on the horizon

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Buckle in and tighten the seatbelts because the coming months leading to the regular season should be an interesting time if the NFL Draft is an indication.

Oct 13, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Husain Abdullah (39) returns an interception for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 13, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Husain Abdullah (39) returns an interception for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Chiefs drafted six players, of course, but each player is at a position where they’ll compete for playing time.

And in some cases like fourth-round pick (124th overall) De’Anthony Thomas, an opportunity to make an immediate impact.

It’s all about competition under general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid, both of whom have a reputation of tinkering with the roster with a view to improvement.

“That’s the beauty of football,” Dorsey said during his post-draft press conference. “Let them compete. Who is the best guy? Let them compete. That’s kind of why you do this.”

As for Reid, one of his former players in Philadelphia, three-time Pro Bowl tight end Chad Lewis, said it best when describing Reid’s approach.

“Andy’s philosophy has always been bring in as much talent as possible, have as much competition in training camp as possible because that makes the team better,” Lewis previously told ChiefsSpin.com. “It brings out the best in you, so he will try and add the best talent possible to the guys that are already there. It will make them better; they’ll in turn help the young guys get better.”

Meanwhile, the Chiefs as of this publishing have 85 players, which includes the six rookie free agents officially signed Monday, leaving the team five players shy of the maximum of 90 allowed on the offseason roster.

But regardless what happens with the remaining players yet to be named, the stage is already set for battlegrounds at numerous positions.

First-round pick Dee Ford will likely begin the season learning from starting outside linebacker Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, so Ford isn’t included in the below scenarios.

Here’s how the interesting position battles shape out (Note: members of the 2014 draft class are bolded with an asterisk next to name):

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Quarterback Alex Smith, Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray, Aaron Murray*

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Smith is entrenched as the starter, while Daniel has a solid hold on the No. 2.

The major competition will be at the No. 3 spot between Bray and Murray, who returns from an ACL injury suffered in late November 2013. How Murray does in the battle ultimately depends on how well his recovery holds up in the months leading to training camp.

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Offensive line Jeff Allen, Chandler Burden, Robert Dill, Eric Fisher, Zach Fulton*, Ricky Henry, Otis Hudson, Rodney Hudson, Rishaw Johnson, Colin Kelly, Eric Kush, Jeff Linkenbach, Donald Stephenson, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif*, Rokevious Watkins

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The clear starters in this crowded group are Fisher at left tackle, Allen at left guard, Rodney Hudson at center and Stephenson at right tackle.

Outside of those four – and Kush since he’s Hudson’s primary backup – the vacant right guard spot has the attention where Johnson, who started at right guard in the 2013 Week 17 game against the San Diego Chargers, will likely get the first shot.

Expect Johnson to compete against Watkins, potentially Linkenbach and anybody else the Chiefs want to take a hard look at, which obviously includes Fulton, the first of two 2014 sixth-round picks. Identifying, and then developing the swing tackle out of the group will be a priority, too.

Duvernay-Tardif projects as a developmental player with upside.

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Free safety Husain Abdullah, Sanders Commings, Malcolm Bronson

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Abdullah, who signed a two-year deal in March, and Commings headline arguably the most important offseason battle when considering how the free safety position disintegrated down the stretch in 2013.

Despite last year’s starter Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps gone via free agency, the Chiefs didn’t address the position during the draft, likely signaling a comfort level with the personnel currently on the roster.

Still, the Chiefs have options to consider other than Abdullah and Commings.

Cornerback Ron Parker, who runs a 4.36 40-yard dash, played free safety in college and third-round pick (87th overall) Phillip Gaines, who runs a 4.38, could be tried at the spot.

Meanwhile, a potential wildcard flying under the radar is Bronson, who enjoyed a decorated career at McNeese State before a knee injury ended his senior season in 2012. He was an All-American selection and garnered first-team All-Southland Conference honors three times.

Bronson spent the 2013 season on the Chiefs practice squad, so he’s had time to recover. More importantly, he’s familiar with the defensive scheme and coaching staff.

The Chiefs currently have Eric Berry, Jerron McMillian and Daniel Sorenson, an undrafted free agent out of BYU, at strong safety.

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Cornerback Marcus Cooper, Brandon Flowers, Phillip Gaines*, Vernon Kearney, Christopher Owens, Ron Parker, Kevin Rutland, Sean Smith, David Van Dyke, DeMarcus Van Dyke

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The Chiefs typically carried five cornerbacks on the active 53-man roster throughout the 2013 season. And given some of the quarterbacks the Chiefs face in 2014, cornerback should provide a spirited competition in training camp.

Smith starts on the right side, but what the Chiefs ultimately decide to do on the left side and slot, where Flowers and Cooper split time last season, remains to be seen. Cooper started the season with a bang before running into a rookie wall, which led to his brief benching.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs under Dorsey appear to have a preference for a big corner in the 6-0 range. Here’s the tale of the tape as proof from tallest to shortest:

Smith

6-3

Cooper

6-2

Kearney

6-2

Gaines

6-1

DeMarcus Van Dyke

6-1

Parker

6-0

Rutland

6-0

David Van Dyke

6-0

Flowers

5-9

Owens

5-9

So many questions, among them where exactly does Gaines fit? Will Cooper start on the left or is it up for grabs with Gaines in the mix? Is Flowers a permanent fixture in the slot for Sutton’s press-man scheme? How many cornerbacks will the Chiefs ultimately carry?

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Special teams returner Knile Davis, Weston Dressler, Joe McKnight, De’Anthony Thomas*

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With the free-agent departures of punt return Dexter McCluster and returner Quintin Demps, Davis is the remaining returner from last season’s record-setting special teams unit.

The Chiefs signed McKnight to a reserve/future deal on Jan. 6, Dressler from the Canadian Football League to a three-year deal in February and drafted the explosive Thomas, who also projects on offense as a slot receiver.

Thomas should have an edge at punt returner and kickoff returner given his dynamic ability in the open field.