KANSAS CITY — The Kansas City Chiefs will head into training camp next month with just as many questions as they had in their first season under Andy Reid.
Who will replace Brandon Flowers at cornerback? When will Pro Bowl linebacker Justin Houston finally show up? Will quarterback Alex Smith land a long-term contract? Who will earn the open spots along the offensive line? And for that matter, the defensive line?
None of them seem to perturb Reid, who professed his pleasure Thursday with the Chiefs' offseason program that ended with the final day of a mandatory three-day minicamp.
"I was happy — happy with performance throughout the offseason program. Thought the guys came in good shape and they built off last season," Reid said. "We've got a lot of work to do. The guys understand that. They're wired that way. They don't shy away from work."
The Chiefs carried a whole bunch of unknowns into training camp in St. Joseph last year, when Reid was brought on to turn around the fortunes of a two-win team. He managed to do it, too, leading the once-proud franchise to an 11-win season and the playoffs.
But hamstrung by the salary cap, the Chiefs were forced to let several starters depart in free agency, and then waived Flowers last week to free up additional space. As a result, there were just 16 players on the roster — which stood at 88 on Thursday — who were also on the team two years ago, when Reid and general manager John Dorsey first moved to town.
Again, Reid sees no cause for alarm. He believes the Chiefs are well ahead of where a year ago, when Smith was a newcomer and veterans such as Jamaal Charles were learning the system.
"We're ahead of that, just the natural progression, and that's a good feeling," Reid said. "We were able to add some more to our packages; guys weren't shocked by it. Last year, every day was a new day, and so it was a heavy workload plus the mental part of that, the new scheme."
Still, there are those lingering questions:
- The departure of Flowers leaves an opening at cornerback, where starter Sean Smith also has missed time with an illness. Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker are both in the mix, while rookie Phillip Gaines has the kind of size that Dorsey tends to favor in defensive backs.
"I always think I'm going to be able to compete for that spot," Parker said, "but with the present opportunity today, I'm just doing whatever the coaches are asking me to do. Whatever they're asking me to do, I just try to do it to the best of my abilities."
- Houston could be subjected to a hefty fine for missing minicamp, and the fines would increase if he holds out of training camp. The talented pass rusher is entering the final year of his current contract and the Chiefs have expressed interest in a long-term deal, though it's unclear where those negotiations stand. Houston is due to make about $1.4 million this season.
- The Chiefs and Smith's representatives have been negotiating a long-term contract for weeks, and both sides have been optimistic that the details will be worked out. Whether that happens before the season or in the weeks before he becomes a free agent remains to be seen.
- Three players who started along the offensive line all signed elsewhere on the first day of free agency, including Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert. The Chiefs drafted his replacement last year in Eric Fisher, who has been recovering from a shoulder injury, and added a few bodies through free agency and the draft. But starting right guard and backup jobs are up for grabs.
The same goes for defensive tackle, where Tyson Jackson's departure has left a void.
"From a coaching standpoint we've been able to get as much a picture as we could without pads on," Reid said. "I think the guys are tired of this here. They want to get the pads on. We've done all the shorts stuff we can do. Now we need to take it up a notch."